Sara and Dan Kelly met there in July 1993 and were married there the following summer. Deacon John and Belinda Brasley brought their children there 12 years ago, and the kids had such a good time that they insist on returning each year. Both Deacon Brasley and Father Joseph Marcoux believe their respective vocations were at least partly inspired by the experiences they had there.
This revered place that seems to hold a special spot in the hearts of many local Catholics is none other than Camp Koinonia, a small camp snugly nestled in Italy Valley, just outside of Naples. For three weeks each summer the camp hosts Family Camp, a Catholic program designed to help family members deepen their faith while bonding with each other and with other families.
Family Camp has been in operation for more than 30 years, said Dorothy Hoysic, a member of the Catholic Community of the Blessed Trinity in Wolcott. In the early 1970s Hoysic, her late husband George and several other people formally founded Family Camp, modeling it after an informal camping retreat attended annually by a group of families and priests in the Southern Tier.
Family Camp also was an outgrowth of the adult-education program at Holy Trinity Parish in Webster, noted Father Daniel Condon, diocesan chancellor and a former Family Camp staff member. For the first decade or so Family Camp was held at Camp Stella Maris on Conesus Lake, but the program moved to Camp Koinonia in the early 1980s when the group of families organizing Family Camp purchased Camp Koinonia from the United Methodist Church, he said.
Family Camp is currently offered during three weeks in July. Interested families sign up for a particular week and spend it in one of the camp’s eight cabins. Camp Koinonia also includes a lodge, two bath houses, two shower houses, an infirmary, craft lodge, swimming pool, outdoor pavilion, camp store and athletic fields, as well as both indoor and outdoor chapels.
The camp’s simplicity adds to the natural beauty around the camp, which is surrounded by hills looming so high that campers who shout “Amen” after praying can hear their prayers echoing back to them, Deacon Brasley noted.
At camp, families are away from such modern diversions as televisions, computers and telephones, so they’re free to focus on their faith and each other. Families begin each day together with breakfast in the lodge before splitting up for a few hours. The children break into small groups according to their ages, and teen staff members lead the children in games and activities related to a specific theme for the day.
Meanwhile, the adults gather to discuss how that same theme relates to their own experiences, and the families regroup for lunch before enjoying free time in the afternoon. All the families gather together again for Mass and dinner before participating in such evening activities as campfires or square dancing.
At first it was hard for Belinda Brasley to let her children go off with the teen staffers each morning. That first year her youngest son was just 1 year old, and all three children were very shy and rarely had been left with baby-sitters at home.
Under the teens’ attention, however, her children blossomed. They opened up and formed relationships with other campers of all ages, especially the teens, whom she said they practically idolized.
The adults place a lot of trust in the teen staffers, who recognize that trust and take great pains not to abuse it, said Father Marcoux, parochial vicar at St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Livingston County who was a former teen staffer at the camp. The priest now is Family Camp’s spiritual director.
This trust helps the teens realize they are good, holy and pure people, and they in turn serve as positive role models for the younger children, added Deacon Brasley.
“I think they realize that’s a great responsibility for them, because those kids are watching them all the time,” he said, noting that two of his own children became teen staffers as soon as they were old enough.
Family Camp has helped their children to become faith-filled and loving people who have grown to love Mass through their participation in daily Mass at camp, the Brasleys said. Other Family Camp activities, such as family sharing, have become part of everyday life for the McBride family and have helped his family members remain open and connected, Dan McBride added.
Like the Brasley children, Sara Kelly attended Family Camp with her family as a child and eventually became a teen staffer. She loved coming to Family Camp as a child, but said she appreciates it even more now that she’s accompanied by her husband, Dan, and their five children.
“I especially realize how I as a parent need support,” she said, noting she’s found that support from the other adult campers. Family Camp also provides a rare opportunity for her and Dan — another former teen staffer — to spend some much-needed time alone.
Kelly suggested that families considering Family Camp should not be intimidated by the program’s religious focus. In her experience, faith seems to naturally blossom in the Family Camp setting.
“The spirit there is very Christ-centered and very Catholic, but at the same time I always feel like it’s such a gentle, natural way of being with religion,” she said.
“It’s what I thought church should always be like,” agreed Father Marcoux. “Everyone’s valued. Everyone is treated with dignity, respect and love there.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about Family Camp, contact Gary and Carol Stevens at 585/637-0601 or visit www.CampKoinoniaNY.org.