Ondessonk’s Mission Lasts All Year
By Greg Santen, Program Services Director
Keeping with our mission to provide outdoor as well as spiritual adventures for kids of all ages, Camp Ondessonk is a great destination for a retreat for students of any grade level. A well-rounded Catholic Education should include a balance of traditional and non-traditional learning opportunities to educate the whole student – mind, body, and soul. This fits perfectly with Camp Ondessonk’s vision of commitment to the growth of people in their faith and promoting stewardship and appreciation of God’s gifts.
John Bouc, Director of Campus Ministry at Althoff Catholic High School in Belleville, Illinois, has been bringing his junior class to Ondessonk for retreat for over 15 years. In fact, Althoff’s first year of retreat at Ondessonk, they ate their meals in the Old Dining Hall. He believes in the social, spiritual, and personal benefits outdoor experiences affords his students not available in a traditional school or church setting. “The outdoors, especially at a place as beautiful as Camp Ondessonk, has a powerful yet unassuming influence on students when they are here. I have helped lead retreats for about 25 years and when you can take advantage of a place like this, so many things fall into place organically that otherwise we had to plan additional activities for [at school].
The natural setting of Ondessonk adds to the overall success of the retreat. Mr. Bouc says, “The arrow-point of evangelism is beauty. It is the window that lets in the light of Christ. When our students bond, share, laugh, and sometimes cry – all in the backdrop of the beauty of God’s creation – it helps make the loving embrace of our God feel more real; but in a non-pushy sort of way.”
Mr. Bouc has brought students to other facilities for retreat over the years, but thinks Ondessonk is special. Ondessonk has been the Diocese of Belleville’s camp for 60 years, and not just during the summer. In addition to bringing his students to Camp during the school year, Mr. Bouc also sends his own children to summer camp. This March, his son came back as a
student on Junior Retreat with his dad. “So many young people already know camp, have been campers, or occasionally, have even been on summer staff. For many, Camp’s reputation and tradition precedes itself.”
One Althoff Junior, who had never been to Camp before, said opening up to the group was a little out of his comfort zone; but he learned a lot about himself in the
process. He enjoyed the hiking and the group talks, and said he grew closer to and earned a lot about his classmates. Another student and former summer camper said,
“When I am in nature, I feel closer to God which helps me step out of my comfort zone and teaches me to appreciate the little things.” She also grew closer to her classmates,
commenting, “Being away from the world gets people out of their normal personas. Through challenges, you find out who they truly are.”
Any educator or school administrator interested in learning more about retreats at Camp Ondessonk should visit https://ondessonk.com/year-round/retreats/ and
call the Camp Office to inquire about dates. Our calendar is very open in the winter months and our St. Noel Center has cozy heated rooms, meeting space, and Wifi. The
Chapel of North American Martyrs is also heated, and Camp can help you schedule a priest to come celebrate Mass, hear confessions, or administer Eucharistic
Adoration as part of your retreat. We hope to see more schools coming to Camp Ondessonk for religious retreats. See you soon!