Sacred Art and Sacred Places: Celebrating Twenty Years of St Francis of Assisi Chapel

Written by Hannah Gallenberger

As Saint Francis of Assisi Chapel, on the grounds of Camp Tekakwitha, celebrates its 20th anniversary of dedication, Camp Tekakwitha highlights two pieces of art that call Saint Francis home.

Saint Francis of Assisi Chapel was dedicated on October 15th, 2002 by the Most Reverend Bishop Robert Banks. Saint Francis Chapel was built to replace the original chapel on site, which campers might now recognize as the current Theatre in the Woods. While the new chapel was being built, Bishop Banks requested two paintings to don the walls. The two paintings, painted by Sister Mariella Erdmann, OSF, depict the Blessed Virgin Mary with the Infant Jesus and Saint Francis of Assisi. Erdmann is a Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity based out of Manitowoc, Wis. The works are done in an indigenous style, with both pieces portraying the Saints with indigenous features and patterns, especially present in the collar and garment of the Blessed Mother.

Erdmann used oil paint over a wood board canvas so the natural grain of the tree would shine through. All of this was intentional to highlight the beauty of God’s creation and to give homage to the Indigenous cultures that have impacted the Church, Northeast Wisconsin, and the world. Erdmann was inspired by Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, Camp Tekakwitha’s patroness, to combine the styles of realism, iconography, and Indigenous styles for these two pieces. She was inspired by Saint Kateri’s Mohawk culture, which prioritizes care for creation. Erdmann merges the realism of the indigenous style with the timelessness of iconography.

Religious art is meant to draw the soul to the eternal, “beyond the here and now” says Erdmann. While the two pieces are certainly from the same hand, each offers a different glimpse of eternity. The painting of the Blessed Mother and the Infant Jesus has a quiet strength to it. Mary is looking at the viewer, with a slight smile beginning to form, and has a soft, inviting gaze in her eyes. She slightly extends the infant in her arms, as if to offer Him to the world, or more particularly, the viewer. The dove keeping watch behind her is the Holy Spirit, which “permeates her entire life” says Erdmann. Mary draws the viewer in, offers her Son, and draws the soul upwards.

Erdmann’s portrayal of Saint Francis is a visual masterpiece depicting the “Canticle of Creation,” a hymn written by Saint Francis himself. “Canticle of Creation” praises every aspect of the created world including the sun, the moon, the winds, and the rains, because Erdmann says, “everything spoke to [St. Francis] of God!” The many layers and sections within the piece each highlight a particular piece of creation that reveals a new aspect of God, its Creator. Francis’s gaze, from its spot in the chapel, pensively looks out over Loon Lake, as if he continues his contemplation.

These two paintings have seen thousands of campers and retreatants, and Erdmann offers tips to pray with religious art. Erdmann, in the words of St. Clare, suggests that the viewer gaze, consider, contemplate, and imitate. Firstly, one must silence themselves and gaze upon the image. Absorb all that is in front of the viewer. Secondly, consider the overall theme. Notice the people, or lack thereof, the colors used, and the symbols shown. Next, contemplate by asking questions like, “what is trying to be said through this painting?” or “what is this calling us to do? What is this calling us to be?” Finally, with the fruits of contemplation, imitate the goodness that is present. Perhaps the viewer imitates Mary’s generosity or St. Francis’s ability to see God in all of creation.

While these two paintings await another summer filled with campers, they grace the Chapel with a unique perspective. Since Camp’s founding in 1926, the former and current chapels have nearly 100 years of combined service. Camp Tekakwitha is grateful for the twenty years of graces, of contemplation, and of the many fruits, including vocations to the priesthood, religious life, and married life, which have found their roots within the walls of Saint Francis of Assisi Chapel. With great hope for the future, and through the intercession of the Blessed Mother, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, and Saint Francis of Assisi, Camp Tekakwitha continues to build the kingdom of God through God’s Creation and sacred art.

The Truth about our Nature

Written by Regina 'Boots' Bettag

At camp, you are immersed in the natural world from the moment you wake up to greet the day with a cool dunk in the lake for that good ‘ol polar plunge, right up to the hush of dusk as we hold hands singing “Day is Done” beneath an unfolding bejeweled night sky. From the time spent picnicking on the sandy dirt and eating alongside the ants, to brushing through the curly ferns eagerly on the lookout for someone during “counselor hunt”, the whole day is spent basking in the glorious presence of creation. 


The land of camp is like an old friend, and it has definitely taught me a lot. One of the things I have come to appreciate is her honesty, because nature never brings anything but her truest self. There are rays of sunshine that drape your shoulders warmer and lighter than the most luxurious of blankets, and stunning wild flowers that dance around the Mary statue in a beautiful, deep blue ballet, but there are also times when lightning cracks the sky and the wind lashes cold against your skin. 


But I’ll tell you what...each and every one of these displays are wonderful at camp. I have life-guarded in a 60 degree rain while kids still splash about, happily frolicking in the chilly waters of Loon Lake. It has been a blazing 90 degrees out with a humidity index that makes you swelter just standing in the shade, but we guzzle water and look for frogs in the marshy wetlands of the canoe landing. There are mornings where a dozen teenagers beg me to wake up before the crack of dawn ( we’re talking 5 am here) so we can kayak on the placid, glassy waters to greet the brilliant sunrise. From the smallest little grub, to the grandest osprey, nature is celebrated and rejoiced in no matter her state, because in all of them she is honest and true. I like to think that in my time at camp she has taught me some of her truth. 


And the truth is this...that you are beautifully and wonderfully made. Certainly this is the case with the stunning land that God has lavished so much beauty upon, but it is even more the case with us. We all have so much to share, enjoy, give, and delight in because God is within us. We are made in His image- beautiful and wonderful! The miracle of camp is that it is a place where you are free to be your most authentic self: the wild, loud, and the goofy, the quiet, creative, and thoughtful; all of these and many more have a place. Camp is both a refuge and a stage, a place to reflect, grow, and find encouragement, but also a place to showcase who you are, share your gifts with others, and guarantee that it will be celebrated!


And what gifts have I seen! I have seen tenderness as Cabin 1 girls braid the hair of the Little Tek campers in Cabin 9, I have heard one of the most beautiful duets ever, sung by cabin mates that were so afraid to perform on stage and then absolutely crushed it, I have been moved by the thoughtfulness of a gift, as a camper gave away a treasured photograph that meant so much, and I have been blown away by the energy and gusto that cabin 7 has cheering each other on during gaga ball! 


At camp, hundreds of campers, counselors, and staff are honestly showcasing who they are, sharing what they have, and growing those gifts a hundred fold. They are displaying their genuine, true selves, and living their vocation by reveling in the awesomeness of what is around and within them!  The beauty of it just wells up and is so much to handle that I like to think that when it floods and overflows our heart, the excess spills out as laughter! ( and there is a LOT of laughter at camp!) 


So it’s no wonder that we spend our time outside from dawn to dusk, because you see, creation and campers have a lot in common- we are beautifully and wonderfully made, and there is no reason to hide that! We revel in it together, and THAT is a fantastic thing!

5 Lessons I Learned as a Camp Counselor

Written by McKenna 'Fig' Runde

If there’s one thing I know from my time as a camp counselor, it is that camp changes you. It bolsters your confidence, deepens your laughter, breaks down your walls, creates forever friendships, and changes lives for the better (not just your own)! 

It also empties you of yourself. It requires more self-sacrifice than you may have ever given before. It pushes you past your comfort zone and encourages trust in the working of the Holy Spirit. It stirs a desire in your heart to serve and love boldly. It empties you of yourself and directs you toward something bigger. It’s the best job in the world, and it teaches you some important life lessons.

Here are 5 'simple' things I learned during my time as a camp counselor:

  1. See the good in all!

Some campers have a fear of the dark, others have a rough case of homesickness. Some are self-conscious and others are loud and boisterous. We all have our ‘things’ (wounds and weaknesses), and we also all have an incredible innate goodness. After all, we were each created in the image and likeness of God!! Serving as a camp counselor showed me the patience necessary to meet each person where he/she was and see the good in all, regardless of the baggage they carry or the wounds they wear.

  1. Really listen

Being a counselor gives you the unique opportunity to grow in relationship with your fellow staff members and the hundreds of campers you’ll encounter throughout a summer. Get to know them. Listen to their stories. Listen to their emotions. Hear them. Everything they’re saying and not saying. They will remember it.

  1. It’s not about you

If you’re joining summer staff because you want to have the time of your life and the tan of your life, you might be in for a little perspective shift. This summer is not about you, but it IS about giving of yourself to those around you. You’ll sacrifice and ‘do it all for the campers’ and pour out your heart ... And you might just find that through your gift of self, you end up having the time of your life.

  1. Flexibility is key

Very rarely do things go as planned at Camp. That’s part of the beauty and magic of this place! We fly by the seat of the Holy Spirit’s pants! Plans change, storms come, cabin 7 boys lose their camp tee right before the all-camp photo … we roll with it! The best memories come from the unplanned moments.

  1. Camp friends are the best friends

Find your people and never let them go! The relationships formed at Camp can withstand any storm … heck, these are the people who have your back when you get 4 hours of sleep with a sick camper. They’re the ones who brush your teeth blindfolded as a fun skit to make the campers roar with laughter. They cry with you in the hard moments and in the moments when your joy is just overflowing.

There were more than a few times in my camp counseling career when I woke up in the back of cabin 3 to a camper knocking on my door and thought to myself, “Wow, I think this is the 16th time I’ve been woken up for a bathroom break tonight.” And there were even more times when I woke up to sunshine and chirping birds and thought, “Wow, this life is a beautiful gift. Thank you, Jesus.” 

Thank you for the time I was given to spend as a camp counselor. Thank you for the memories gained and the lessons learned. Thank you for the people I met and those I grew from. For the tears and the laughter and the songs and the stories. For Your presence, in all of it. Thank you, Jesus.

Take a Little Teka-with-ya

Written by: Rachel 'Cricket' Pischke

I have done a lot of profound, life-changing, and exuberant things in my life. There are many things that I am proud of: special events that brought immense joy and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. However, nothing has tugged at my heart strings, given me hope or brought more comfort and joy to my life than Camp Tekakwitha has. Camp has carried my most treasured moments for more than a decade of my life.

I spent long summers on Loon Lake that felt far too short. We spent nights stargazing with Treble on the waterfront. Days preparing for campers by building an observatory. Long nights by the fire making nickel s’mores and telling recycled scary stories. Afternoons that were so hot we swam all day. 

I watched kids struggle with archery on Monday and saw them hit the target by Friday. I lingered over the smell of the cabin the first night of the summer after a long winter of vacancy. I perfected my pancake-making skills during our Polka Pancake tradition where sprinkles in your pancakes were a novelty. I have memories of berry picking with my very best friends at 6 AM, saving baby bunnies from a wild storm, kayaking until our arms hurt, ducking through the spider tunnel, and eating dinner in the pouring rain.


Camp Tekakwitha isn’t just a physical place that I left back in 2016, it’s forever with me. I carry it wherever I go. The memories and lessons I learned there have guided me. As I’ve found myself now in a role with youth programs, I continue to encounter many children every week who have also fallen in love with Camp Tekakwitha, and I get the honor of sharing such a special commonality.

I have brought songs from Camp Tek meals with me all the way to South America. I played the same games that I once played with campers, with orphans in Africa - and I attempted the same crafts I once made at camp, in South America. As I look forward to my future, Camp Tekakwitha and what I learned in its presence will guide my choices for the rest of my life.

I hope that as you continue to experience the powerful joy and peace that dwells within the midst of Camp for the coming summers, that you always remember to take a little teka-with-ya and leave a little of yourself behind.

Camp Tekakwitha: A Ministry at the Peripheries


Written by Jack 'Oak' Lawlis

As Catholics, we are missionary disciples by the virtue of our baptism, and are called to proclaim the good news of the Gospel to the world. We have encountered the Lord’s love, and know of the joy that is promised by a life devoted to Christ. This knowledge fuels our mission and efforts towards conversion.  

When embarking on mission, we must ensure that our evangelical efforts reach all people, so that every person may come to know and love the Lord. We must go to the peripheries—the margins of our social and ecclesial communities—so that all might have the opportunity to discover Christ.

During my time at Camp Tekakwitha, I witnessed firsthand a ministry which not only reached those at the peripheries of our society, but also fostered experiences at the peripheries of encounter and faith. We can learn from the ministry of Camp Tekakwitha as we continue on our own journeys as disciples on the way.


Mission to the Peripheries

Each summer, Camp Tekakwitha is home to campers of a diverse range of backgrounds and faith traditions. While many campers are practicing Catholics, some have not been introduced to the person of Christ. For these campers, Camp Tekakwitha is often one of the first fully Catholic experiences that they will have.

This initial encounter is not a “typical” introduction to the faith. Through shared experiences of joy and camaraderie, whether it be swimming in Loon Lake, playing slip-and-slide kickball, or spending an evening in Eucharistic Adoration, campers come to know the Lord in one another, and associate the most enjoyable aspects of their lives with their faith.

These communal experiences introduce us to a new aspect of encounter—one that is bolstered by friendship, punctuated by prayer, and which truly exhibits the joy of the Gospel. God calls us together as a people, and it is through these unique and exciting encounters that we walk towards the Lord together, and combat the spiritual pessimism that threatens the faiths of many.

Pope Benedict XVI describes faith as “an encounter with the living God—an encounter opening up new horizons extending beyond the sphere of reason.” I witnessed amazing encounters with the Lord every week for three summers at Camp Tekakwitha, and just as the Pope Emeritus said, these encounters left campers and counselors alike with a new and beautiful understanding of life.  


Visible Encounter

Camp Tekakwitha’s phenomenon of encounter is almost formulaic, and is a process through which campers catch their first glimpse as to what a life in Christ is like.

First, campers arrive uncertain, and with reservations. These uncertainties fade as they meet their counselors and cabinmates, who whom they quickly become friends. Then begins a week of great fun and excitement, and campers begin to feel at home. Next, the critical moment occurs. It could be in a kind word, or the example of a counselor, or in a moment of prayer. It is their first encounter with the person of Christ.

A boy from Cabin Seven spends an evening in Camp Tekakwitha’s St. Francis of Assisi Chapel, praying the Rosary with his cabinmates and counselors. He doesn’t know much about the Catholic faith, and his family doesn’t pray often, but he knows enough to respond during the prayers.

As he prays, he feels a calmness in his heart, unlike any he has ever known before. Reflecting on the days prior, on the laughter and excitement with his cabinmates who he has come to know as his best friends, this moment is inseparable from any other experience of joy. His heart opens to the Lord, and he experiences God’s love in its fullness. “This,” he thinks, “is what I desire.”

I’ve seen this experience many times at Camp Tekakwitha, each in a unique and beautiful way, and even in my own life. Camp Tekakwitha creates amazing experiences which bring both campers and counselors to the peripheries and opens their hearts to the Lord. This is the method through which Camp Tekakwitha seeks to lead all people to the Kingdom of God.

When we journey to the peripheries of our faith, we live as disciples for the Lord. Campers, counselors, and families all have a role to play in this effort—and it is through exciting, communal, and unique experiences that we will encounter Christ. By journeying to the peripheries of our communities and our faith in our efforts as missionary disciples, we help all people reach the Lord, and achieve their ultimate good in Heaven.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Written by Shelby 'Buttercup' Zwintscher

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

This is a quote everyone has probably heard or said at some point in their lifetime. While I do agree that a picture is worth a thousand words, I can think of one instance in particular where a picture is worth so much more than just a thousand words…

In the summer of 2019 it was part of my job as the Social Media Specialist to flit around the grounds of camp with a camera and capture all the joyous moments that were constantly occurring. I took pictures of campers flashing a smile with their new camp friends, of campers playing an intense game of hexagon soccer, and of campers simply taking in the beauty of God’s creation.

Pictures of Camp Tek in action are worth so much more than a thousand words because those pictures are like little time capsules that allow anyone whose life has been touched by camp to relive the bliss of camp over and over again throughout their life. One look at a camp photo can send you on a trip down memory lane. When I look back on photos of Camp Tek there is so much more to the image than meets the eye. Behind every Camp Tek photo there is a vast history, full of traditions, silly songs, and crazy games, there are memories of cabin mates and counselor’s bizarre names, campfires and Loon Lake sunsets. 

Let me walk you through how I relive camp through photos. Go ahead and take a good look at any picture that was taken at Camp Tekakwitha (there are lots on our Facebook page). Do you know where this photo was taken? Do you remember how to get to that spot? Visualize yourself walking there from somewhere else on the grounds of camp like the Lodge, the archery range, or a cabin you stayed in. What do you see along the way? Do you have any memories associated with the things you pass? Will you stop inside another building? Perhaps you pass the stage and recall your favorite camp skit. Or maybe you pass the Trading Post and buy a snack. As you walk to the location, imagine the friends you made at camp walking alongside you, what were their names? What kind of games did you play with those friends? Did you ever play gaga ball with them or come up with a cool cabin clean up theme with them? As you make your way to the location in the photo, recall the smells you would smell there; if you’re near the lodge you might smell your favorite camp meal cooking or if you’re near the beach you’ll smell the lake water. What does it sound like there? If you’re imagining the location while it’s busy, there’s probably a lot of laughter! Now look at the photo again, and even if you are not in it imagine yourself in that spot participating in the activity that is occurring. Perhaps you are crafting in the rec hall, or sliding across a slip’n’slide in Tekakwitha field on Lily Games day. Let even the littlest of memories of Camp Tek come back to you.

Whenever I look back at a Camp Tek photo, all these questions and so many more come to mind and before I know it I’m smiling as I recall the unphotographed moments and memories. I encourage you to try this activity out for yourself and when you’re done leave a comment of a memory that was sparked by the image you looked at or what you envisioned outside of the photo!

One single image could spark a handful of different memories for any person who has experienced Camp Tek. So while “a picture is worth a thousand words”, a Camp Tek picture is worth thousands of lifelong memories of summers gone and summers to come; of friendships, of sticky s’mores fingers, of songs echoing through the lodge, of prayer, and of the Camp Tekakwitha community.

The Gift of Sunsets

Written by Kaitlynn 'Crayola' Kupsky

When I think about Camp Tekakwitha, so many memories come to mind.  Many of the memories involve the beauty of God’s creation.  One of the greatest treasures of nature at Camp Tek are the sunsets on Loon Lake as the waterfront gives a picture-perfect view of each sunset.  The sunset is a truly beautiful background for many important moments at camp.  Every Sunday, we end our first night together by singing “Day is Done” by the waterfront.  As we hold hands and swat away mosquitoes, we sing and pray together as one large camp family.  While we stare off into the beauty of the sunset, campers and counselors alike are anxious and excited to see what the week will bring.  On Thursday nights, we have a ceremony that honors the tradition of Camp Tek.  This ceremony begins by walking down to the waterfront on a path lit with tiki torches.  As campers approach the waterfront, they see the sun setting below the trees in the horizon.  This sunset is often full of color, from yellow, to orange, to pink, to blue.  As campers gaze upon Loon Lake, they also see a counselor arriving on a canoe portraying St. Kateri Tekakwitha.  As we pay tribute to our camp’s namesake, campers share their cabin-made Kateri crosses, many of which are adorned with memories from the week: memories that were only dreams on Sunday night.  

The most beautiful sunsets I have seen come after storms.  Only after the skies have let out the rain, thunder, and lightning can we see the beauty that lies underneath.  The sunsets that come after the rain are breathtaking.  This spring, our lives were turned upside down.  I had recently started my first teaching job in January.  I was just getting into the groove of things and really getting to know my students.  One morning, I received notice that the school would be closing and we would be closed for one month.  Of course, we know how that went.  I experienced many thoughts and emotions.  How are my kids going to learn?  How will I be able to support them?  When can we all safely be together again?  I had to rethink the way I teach.  Students had to rethink the way they learn.  Shortly after school shut down, I wondered about the status of camp.  Were we going to be able to hold summer camp?  How could we make summer camp work safely?  Of course, we also know how this turned out.  After all of these storms, there must be something positive and beautiful to look forward to.  There must be a sunset out there somewhere.  

How can we still make this summer a sunset summer?  Where are we able to see the beauty of God after all that has happened?  What are you grateful for and what are you looking forward to?  A few weeks ago, I was walking out of my job at a restaurant and was struck by the beauty of the sunset.  My first thought was: This sunset would look amazing on Loon Lake!  Then I thought:  It is so beautiful right here, right now.  There are little sunsets in so many moments already this summer.  Connecting with camp friends.  Finally being able to attend Mass in person.  Receiving letters from family and friends.  Later this week I am taking my youngest niece strawberry picking for her first time.  I am sure that will be a sunset moment.  This summer I have been able to slow down a bit, connect with family more, and prepare more for the upcoming school year.  We are able to stay connected with camp in new ways.  How are you able to slow down and see the little sunsets in your life?

Sacred Art and Sacred Places: Celebrating Twenty Years of St Francis of Assisi Chapel

Written by Hannah Gallenberger As Saint Francis of Assisi Chapel, on the grounds of Camp Tekakwitha, celebrates its 20th anniversary of dedi...