The Chapel of The North American Martyrs

The Chapel of The North American Martyrs

By Pati Egan

In 1959, the first year of Camp, Mass was held in the Grotto.  The Chapel was not yet built. The 50th Anniversary Book notes that the Chapel was dedicated June 12, 1960.  This also was the formal dedication of Camp Ondessonk.

The Chapel Camp Ondessonk Dedication 1960
From the formal dedication in 1960

The Chapel was designed by long-time volunteer Tom Halterman of St. Philip’s Parish in East St. Louis, Ill. The Chapel was built by volunteers organized by Monsignor J.J. Orlett of St. Mary’s Parish, Dean of the South Deanery of the Diocese. There was no air conditioning in those days. I have heard that the stained-glass windows came from the old St. Elizabeth’s Parish in East St. Louis, but I don’t think that is correct because it was an active parish in the early 1960s. 

This pre-Vatican II photo shows a communion railing with a gate that was seen in all Catholic Churches at that time. Notice that all girls wore head coverings. Campers went to Mass every morning.

The Chapel Camp Ondessonk

As Camp grew, it became difficult for each unit to attend Mass every morning. Units would attend twice a week and each side of the lake would determine when their unit attended.  Mass attendance during the week was appreciated but presented challenges to both the Unit Leader and the campers.

This Camp schedule shows when units were to be at Mass. Units were expected to wear their unit shirts. Breakfast followed quickly after Mass. Activities started at 9:30 a.m. The units would have to hurry back to their unit, change out of their unit shirt, and be at their first activity on time. The far units, such as Raganeau, would have to be up by 6:00 a.m. to arrive ready to go by 7:25 a.m.

The staff manual printed in the 1970s listed the duties of the unit in charge of the Mass.

On Sundays, benches were placed on the sides of the Chapel to handle the overflow of campers and staff who attended.

Just like today, the main gathering place for units for evening activities was the area between the Chapel and the Original Dining Hall. It could get very noisy outside the Chapel. Some campers had already attended Sunday services before they arrived at Camp. Therefore, ropes would be put up as barriers with signs saying Quiet Area, but that really didn’t work as intended. 

The Chapel Camp Ondessonk 2010

Perhaps someone knows how the large bell tower was erected, as it is not mentioned in any history. An interesting story, I am sure, for another post.

In 1977, renovations were completed on the Chapel.  By this time, there were 12 units, and the seating area was just too small for six units to fit in the Chapel at one time. An altar platform, ceiling insulation, stained glass windows, and an enlarged seating area were added to the inside as well as a stone tabernacle inset behind the altar. Volunteers from St. Patrick’s Parish in East St. Louis, under the direction of Paul Fournie, completed the rock work that campers now associate with the Chapel. The doors are mahogany wood brought from Haiti.

The Chapel now has the shape campers, volunteers, and staff have worshipped in since the late 1970s. I could not find when air conditioning was added, but I do remember that it was probably around 1980.

The Chapel Camp Ondessonk 2023
The Chapel of the North American Martyrs as it stands today.

The Chapel takes on a stunning look at night with the lights on. It serves as a reminder to us of God’s presence at Camp Ondessonk. It is a welcoming light for all to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. The inside is inviting and open to any who want to find a place of quiet reflection.

The Chapel- Photo by Dr. Chris Wangard
Photo by Dr. Christopher Wangard

Click here to learn more about Camp Ondessonk’s history.


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