Youth camp inspires friendship through faith

Barb Arland-Fye
A camper expresses delight when his name is called in a drawing at the conclusion of the first St. Philomena Academy Youth Camp Aug. 13 in Davenport.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — Waves of red and blue T-shirted campers rippled through the cafeteria at St. Alphonsus Parish as their parents waited eagerly to see them at the conclusion of the inaugural St. Philomena Academy Youth Camp. The overnight faith-building experience Aug. 12-13 engaged 66 youths ages 11-17 from 13 parishes in the Davenport and Peoria (Illinois) dioceses in prayer, song, sacrament, arts, crafts and ping pong matches with the pastor of St. Alphonsus.

Father Nicholas Akindele, who also serves as pastor of Holy Family Parish in Davenport, has a devotion to St. Philomena, a 13-year-old virgin martyr who lived in the third century. Since becoming pastor of both parishes a year ago, he envisioned a youth camp named in the saint’s honor.

“Young people crave loving families and strong ties of friendship where they can be honest and share about themselves,” Father Akindele said. The overnight camping experience sought to “assist these young people in our communities find friendships in their faith journey. A journey that opens them to love God above all things. They will in turn bring this dynamism to their families and schools.”


“Get connected with your children, befriend them,” Sister Damiana Adeyingbo of the Sisters of St. Michael of the Archangel advised the parents shortly before the campers entered the cafeteria. “Give them a strong foundation built on Christ’s rock.” She reminded them of their responsibility as role models, who set an example by their actions.


As the campers took seats next to their parents and siblings in the cafeteria, Madeline Murphy, a camp co-leader with Catherine Hamling, announced, “All right campers, we’re going to sing ‘Sanctuary’ for you parents.” The youths began singing, “Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true. With thanksgiving I’ll be a living sanctuary, for you…”

Father Akindele conducted a drawing, handing out prizes of religious books, plaques and devotional items to students as their names were called. The kids responded enthusiastically, with one camper kneeling on the floor, praying and hoping his name would be called (and it was, eventually).

The grand finale, though, was the unveiling of a large portrait of St. Philomena, which local muralist Atlanta Dawn painted during the camp. Close friends of Father Akindele commissioned the artwork, which parents clustered around to snap photos with their cell phones.

Pumped-up campers

Barb Arland-Fye
Father Nicholas Akindele listens to a camper at the conclusion of the St. Philomena Academy Youth Camp in Davenport on Aug. 13. The camp drew more than 65 campers for the two-day event focused on faith and fun. The camp was held at St. Alphonsus Parish.

Campers shared their enthusiasm for the camp with The Catholic Messenger. “It helped my faith,” said Joel Nelson, a sixth-grader from St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport who especially enjoyed participating in eucharistic adoration.

Seventh-grader Mad­eleine Stanforth of Sacred Heart Parish in Davenport said she enjoyed “hanging out with the other kids and getting to grow closer to God.” Spending the night was fun and the “beds were really comfortable.”

Elyse Siesicki, a sixth-grader at All Saints Catholic School in Davenport, said she learned a lot about God. She really appreciated a Theology of the Body talk by Sister Mary Anthony Worrell of the Franciscan Sisters of Christ the Divine Teacher in Davenport.

Andy Katherman of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf volunteered as a floater for the youth camp because his son Drew, 11, a sixth-grader, was among the youngest campers. Andy thought the camp was terrific, blending a variety of different retreats programs to offer participants. Drew said his favorite activities were eucharistic adoration and participating in the sacrament of reconciliation. Andy was so impressed that “all 66 kids went to confession. How amazing was that?”

Hamling of St. John Vianney Parish in Betten­dorf said she and her husband have become good friends with Fa­ther Akin­dele, who prayed over her when she was dealing with breast cancer. Her faith deepened through her ordeal and Father Akindele’s ministering. Later, he asked her to assist with organizing the youth camp. “My relationship with Philomena has grown and evolved through this … it’s a passion project,” Hamling said.

Murphy, a junior at Notre Dame University and graduate of Assumption High School in Davenport, who served as music director at Holy Family Parish this summer, decided to help after attending a meeting about the proposed camp. She previously served as a Totus Tuus missionary in the Davenport Diocese and has been engaged in other retreat experiences. “I knew my experience would be a great asset,” added Murphy, who also served as an overnight chaperone for the female campers. The giggles and whispering throughout the night didn’t bother her, she said smiling. Her takeaway from the camp: “It reaped fruit in the faith lives of the kids.”

“The academy was a success with teamwork, prayers and wonderful helpers,” said Hieu Nguyen, youth animator for St. Alphonsus and Holy Family parishes, who chaired the planning committee. “It took months of planning and finding resources. The Lord has provided what we need to help these youths to holiness.”

Father Akindele, pumped up by the enthusiasm of campers and parents, asked, “Next year, do you want us to have this?” “Yeah!” the gathering responded.

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