Camp Kappe Retreat — A priority for today’s youth

May 13, 2014

PLANTERSVILLE — The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston offers multiple retreats for groups, families and individuals of all ages and walks of life, some held at parishes and others in retreat centers across the Archdiocese. According to Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, he believes retreats are “a priority for today’s laity.”

One retreat center that is operated by the Archdiocesan Office of Adolescent Catechesis and Evangelization is Camp Kappe, a 130-acre tract of heavily wooded rolling land approximately one hour north of Houston in Plantersville. 

This site was acquired in 1981 to be a new camp/youth retreat site, and has as its primary focus to serve as a center for youth retreats and spiritual growth programs. Camp Kappe also is one of the 60 ministries supported by the Diocesan Services Fund (DSF).

The facility was officially named Camp Kappe, in memory of Father T.W. Kappe, a priest who worked with young people of the diocese for more than 20 years prior to his death in 1976. 

It has provided parishes and schools of the Archdiocese with their own complex rather than relying on facilities of other denominations or secular organizations for 33 years.

According to Brian Johnson, director of the Office of Adolescent Catechesis and Evangelization and also appointed director of the facility, one of the ministry’s goals is to “seek to draw young people to a responsible participation in the life, mission and work of the Catholic faith community.” (Renewing the Vision, USCCB, 1997)

“Using the words of Cardinal DiNardo, our youth aren’t the Church of tomorrow, they are the Church of today in formation,” said Johnson. “If we want to be the Church that truly evangelizes rather than fossilizes, we must invest fully in our young people and help them to grow into modern-day disciples of hope, love, compassion, forgiveness and faithfulness.”

Camp Kappe provides this opportunity in a retreat setting for Catholic youth living in the Galveston-Houston area, as well as those from other parts of the state that drive sometimes hundreds of miles to utilize the camp’s programs.

Once entering Camp Kappe, its heavily wooded grounds include a main facility currently with a kitchen and eating area, cabins that can accommodate sleeping arrangements for close to 80 people, a pond with canoes, playfield and picnicking areas, and Priscilla’s Place, a four-story barn that houses farm animals and a climbing and repelling wall.

Camp Kappe also houses the School of Environmental Education (S.E.E.), a well-known service offering a supplemental education program to parochial schools. S.E.E. provides a four-day outdoor experience of God’s gift of nature while studying life cycles, food chains, the environment’s effect on man, man’s effect on the environment, and conservation of resources. 

It offers hands-on experience with farm animals and gardening along with many other exciting adventures in outdoor education, such as classes in American Red Cross canoeing.

Currently, one of Johnson’s tasks is to do a myriad of upgrades and renovations to the facility which would offer parishes its usage throughout the summer. This is a continuation of the vision of Father Ben Smaistrla, the former director of Camp Kappe.

Diane Trahan, a fifth-grade teacher at St. Anne Catholic School in Tomball, has experienced Camp Kappe first hand, both as a teacher attending with her students over the years and parent of two now-grown daughters that attended the camp when they were children. Trahan believes the staff members at Camp Kappe work tirelessly to empower the students and to help them understand the value of teamwork. 

“I truly treasure each moment that I was there watching my students learn, live and work together in such a wonderful, natural environment,” Trahan said. “Upon our return, it is obvious that there is a carryover into the classroom from this valuable experience. The students go back in a heartbeat!”

From the parent perspective, she said it never occurred to her when dropping off her daughters at Camp Kappe almost 24 years ago, that she would return as a teacher with her own class of fifth grade students.

“The photographs and memories that we all have point to the wonderful Catholic school tradition which we were blessed to experience,” Trahan said. “While Camp Kappe may have incurred small changes with the passage of time, the essence still lives on after all these years!”