Our Lady of the Fields Camp and Retreat Center set to open this spring
By Vanessa Denha Garmo
With a beach area, water activities and planned programs, Chaldean kids and others will soon be able to enjoy a camping trip right in Southeast Michigan. Camp Chaldean is being revamped and rebranded.
Tying into the Feast Day and the new name for the site, Our Lady of the Fields Camp and Retreat Center is set to open around May 15, the Chaldean Feast Day for our Lady.
“One of our most ancient feast days in the Chaldean tradition is this feast day, Our Lady of the Fields,” said Monsignor Zuhair Kejbou, who along with Fr. Manuel Boji, is leading the efforts with the blessings from Bishop Francis Kalabat. “Since Chaldeans were in the farming industry, they asked Mary for protection of their fields and grains. The observation of that feast day is really the offshoot of our faith and it is based on protection of Mary as they grow in their faith,” said Monsignor Kejbou.
This also ties into the mission of the camp. Mary protected the fields and now our children.
“Today those fruits are the offspring and we are asking Mary to place that protection on our children. There is great meaning in the name,” said Monsignor Kejbou.
The committee sought out experts in the camping industry. Recommended by Michael Sarafa, Bishop Francis appointed Michael Hickey as the new Executive Director of Our Lady of the Fields.
Hickey spent 23 years as the Camp Director of Camp Sancta Maria (CSM) in Gaylord. Established in 1933, CSM has been offering young people aged 8 to 16 a summer full of fun, personal growth, and spiritual development. Hickey was a teacher at U of D Jesuit and Academy for 11 years prior to taking a teaching position at Brother Rice High School in Birmingham where he has taught for 11 years.
Committee members also researched and toured other camps including Camp Tamarack in Ortonville. “West Bloomfield Supervisor Steve Kaplan was kind enough to set up a private tour of Camp Tamarack and they were very kind in accommodating,” said Jim Manna, committee member. “We arrived on a very cold morning ready with notes and cameras for recording pictures and videos.”
Sitting on 1,300 acres, Camp Tamarack was created by the Jewish community in the early 1900s. However, it is open to all faiths.
“We toured several villages, including several activity areas’ live animals, a gigantic outdoor stage and live theatre, rope courses that were intertwined throughout the camp, which is a major component of camps today,” said Manna. “One of the most eye-opening facts we learned was that the majority of campers that attend camp Tamarack only pay for the day-to-day operations but all of the other funding came from Jewish families throughout southeast Michigan and that was very apparent by the names on different villages throughout the camp.”
One beneficiary of the sponsored Camp Tamarack trip was Arbor Drugs founder Eugene Applebaum who as a child could not afford to attend camp. “We hope to set up a similar fund so kids in our community whose families cannot afford to send them to camp will be able to attend. Perhaps one day we will be able to send a child to our own camp who will be inspired,” said Burt Kassab, co-trustee of the Shamaya Kassab Trust and committee member”
Over the next few weeks, committee members will be hosting presentations at all the Chaldean churches to share with them the plans for the new camp.
There is a master plan for the redesign of the 160 acres of property that sits in Genoa Township in Livingston County. “This camp is really 40 minutes or so from the Chaldean community,” said Karam Bahnam, committee member. “There really isn’t a camp site like this in the area,” said Hickey.
Currently, the camp can sleep 100 in the existing cabins. This year changes will be made as they open the camp with a new name and new programs. However, long-term plans exist to create a full-fledge camp and retreat center.
The master plan is divided into two sections: The camp and the retreat center which will be created next to the existing church on the site.
This summer there are plans for two one-week boy camps ages 8 to 14 and a mother and daughter weekend camp and a father and son weekend camp.
With the fresh water lake nestled in the center of the two sections, campers can enjoy fishing, canoeing, kayaking and other water crafting activities. There will also be a rope course and other outdoor camping activities.
The property was purchased from the City of Detroit in 2007. The property was purchased with funds from the Shamaya (Sam) Kassab fund. His vision was to duplicate the Mar Gorgis Shrine just outside of Telkaif. “He wanted to create this during his own lifetime,” said Burt Kassab. “He unfortunately passed before it was ever completed.”
Shamaya Kassab envisioned a place for people to pray and spiritually grow in their faith. “This camp is a branch of that mission,” said Kassab. “We will be able to inspire people at a young age who will attend mass at St. George Church on the property during camp. A place where people can do the stations of the cross. We will inspire adults who attend retreats at the planned retreat house. Shamaya is probably looking down and smiling because this goes beyond what he imagined. It goes beyond a one-day visit. This is about being in a prayerful and spiritual atmosphere for days.”
Since the purchase, the property has been used for family reunions, church activities as well as Chaldean Youth Camp, an idea of Deacon Fadie Gorgies who had experience at Camp Sancta Maria.
“He was moved by the Holy Spirit to bring up the idea to myself and my brother seminarians,” said Deacon John Jaddou. “Our program started as a seminarian-run camp, but it quickly morphed into a couple of seminarians leading in administration and volunteer coordination/training, while the brunt of the camp was led by excellent lay-leadership.”
The Chaldean Youth Camp, popularly known as CYC, was started four years ago as a Day Camp. Programs consist of Day Camps for ages 8-11 with pick-up and drop-off locations at St. Joseph and Mother of God; along with overnight camps for ages 12-14. All camps are either all boys or all girls.
“We are going to build upon the existing programs and utilize the young people already involved in CYC,” said Hickey. “We anticipate creating a venue for not just the Chaldean community but the community at large. This is an up north environment right in our own backyard.”
With families having had positive experiences at CYC, the committee members believe it will be an easy transition into week-long overnight camps. “The feeling I get from our families is that parents are willing to spend money to send their kids to a program that build up the Christian faith in their kids. There also seems to be genuine trust in the Church to provide a safe, positive environment for the kids to grow in their faith and identity. The kids also responded well because we emphasize presenting the faith in a fun way.”
CYC focuses on three pillars: 1. Faith, 2. Fun, 3. Culture.
The Bible verse that inspired the inception of CYC is Matthew 19:14 where Jesus, rebuking his disciples for preventing the children from coming to Him, says “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
“So much of our culture is blocking our little children from experiencing the loving embrace of Jesus. Jesus wants these children, and so our mission is to bring these children to Jesus and allow them to encounter Him,” said Deacon John. “One incredible fruit that we’ve seen come out of CYC has been in leadership development. As mentioned, we’ve had more than 100 counselors participate in CYC over the years, the majority of which are 16-21. As we always say, the youth are the future leaders of the church and our community. CYC is an opportunity for teenagers to live out their faith through service in a meaningful and impactful way. Their faith grows as they act upon their faith - and I have personally witnessed our teenagers come to Jesus through service at CYC.”
Deacon John noted that because CYC is an activity that is taken on by the diocese as a whole, and not limited to a particular parish, it has been incredible to see campers and counselors alike meet people from all over the diocese. “It has been particularly encouraging to see how counsellors from different parishes have befriended each other and provided a sense of greater unity in the diocese.”
Not only will Our Lady of the Fields be open to entire Chaldean Diocese but the community at large. “This is a process,” said Hickey. “We have immediate plans and long-term plans.”
The camp is very much focused on the Catholic faith. Mass will be celebrated daily and the day will end with evening prayer. “We will be Christ-Centered and will teach the Golden Rule in all of our activities,” said Hickey.
This will be centered around fun, competitive actives that promote team work, social skills, compromise while focusing on others.
Camper programs will consist of field sports, court sports, arts and crafts, canoeing, kayaking, swimming, water sports, fishing, adventure games, team building initiatives, outdoor cooking, wilderness survival, back packing, nature and wild life awareness and water bottle rocketry.
Although the site is ready for campers, the actual retreat center is still in the planning stages. There are plans to build a retreat cabin with a kitchen and outdoor deck overlooking the lake. The buildings for the retreat center will be placed on the Church side of the property.
The website is still in the development stages. Soon, families will be able to register online for all camps. http://ourladyofthefieldscamp.org/