The Ever-Evolving Lodge of Ondessonk & Tekakwitha
by Pati Egan
The Auxiliary Lodge of Tekakwitha? A sash used before the light blue and scarlet red sashes of today? The Order of the White Feather? A ceremony that was based on Native Americans? Yes, the Lodge has certainly changed! Like all vibrant organizations, the Lodge has grown and evolved to meet the challenges and expectations of the times.
The year was 1952, and Camp Pakentuck was a Boy Scout camp located in what we now call Pakentuck. The Order of The White Feather was established. Campers would vote for new members who exemplified the best of Scouting, and candidates participated in an “ordeal” the following year to prove that they were worthy of trust and honor. As a recognized Boy Scout Award, inducted members wore a scarlet sash with a white feather. The Director of Camp Pakentuck eventually became the director of Camp St. Philip.
St. Philip Parish and School were located in East St. Louis, Ill. (the school is now called Sister Thea Bowman Catholic School). The parish rented the facilities of two Scout camps nearby which were named Camp St. Philip. An honor camping society was initiated at Camp St. Philip in 1957 – two years before the opening of Camp Ondessonk. According to a 1960 Ondessonk newsletter, a new Lodge sash was created for both the Lodge of Ondessonk and, yep – sign of the times – the Auxiliary Lodge of Tekakwitha.
Marge Downey, a camper and staff member at Ondessonk, former Board Member, and volunteer recalls being one of the original members of the Lodge called out at Camp St. Philip located at Pere Marquette State Park. No one can recall what the original sashes looked like. Perhaps this is lost to history; the newsletter stated that you had to turn in the old sash in order to get the new sash at Camp Ondessonk.
With the opening of Ondessonk in 1959, the Lodge became an important part of Camp. I am not aware how the site for the ceremony was chosen but it was, and still is, perfect!
Just like today, campers assembled in the main area (during the 80’s this changed to the grotto). They were met on horseback by The Herald of the Tribe, and led to the Council Ring. Absolute silence was demanded as the campers walked down the smudge-pot-lit Camp Road.
A spirit of mystery drove the ceremony. A canoe was paddled down the channel of Lake Echon between LaLande & Goupil (yes, it was deep enough) with the chief or princess welcoming campers as they stood on twin canoes lashed together by a board. A flaming arrow was shot from the Garner Bridge beginning the ceremony. All that was to be seen by the campers entering the council ring was the main speaker on a cliff with two torchbearers. At some point in the speech the speaker said “let the fires that burned for centuries burn forth tonight” which signaled the start of the fire dance. All smudge pots were lighted at this time, and the campers were suddenly surrounded by light.
Much like today, speeches were made and Native American dances performed to teach a lesson or value. Originally the four winds called out the names but later names of the candidates were called with flaming arrows.
In the 1990s, when Gene Canavan was Director, staff began to take a closer look at the use of Native American dances, costumes, and names in the ceremony. A Native American Catholic observed our ceremony and made many positive suggestions on changes. We thought we were being respectful to Native Americans, but we learned that change was needed to truly show respect to Native American cultures and traditions. Staff traveled to Canada to learn more about the North American Martyrs and the Huron Nation that they served.
A complete revision of the ceremony was written by staff to more accurately reflect the role of the Jesuits, Orders of Sisters, and others who were part of the history. The Lodge Ceremony has always reflected the values of the staff who performed it. Lodge has never been a static, unchangeable group. As society changes and evolves, so does Lodge.
In 2017 Lodge officials wanted to be more in tune with the times, and they felt that portraying Native Americans was not honoring their culture, and that the ceremony didn’t explain the purpose of Lodge or what is expected of a Lodge member. There was a year-long discussion between Lodge Officials and the Program Committee to develop a ceremony that would reflect what Lodge stands for. Much thought, prayer, and discussion went into this process, and the result was the ceremony we have today.
Some things haven’t changed – campers still walk down the same lighted path and enter the Council Ring, just as some of their parents, grandparents, and perhaps now their great grandparents did. A flaming arrow is still shot (with the addition of the 4 winds) to announce the candidates. Campers are still thrilled to be chosen as Lodge candidates. The same values are stressed – care for the earth and all of God’s creation, choosing good over bad, and being a valued friend. It is a ceremony that fits this generation’s beliefs and I think it is amazing! Keep on evolving Lodge!