Camp Turner opens new St. Francis Center

Mon, May 15th 2017 09:00 am
Staff Reporter
Msgr. Fran Weldgen delivers the homily at the new center where worship can be held on Camp Turner in Allegany State Park. The Mass was held to open the new center. Dan Cappellazzo/Staff Photographer)
Msgr. Fran Weldgen delivers the homily at the new center where worship can be held on Camp Turner in Allegany State Park. The Mass was held to open the new center. Dan Cappellazzo/Staff Photographer)

For over 90 years, Camp Turner has provided young people with an opportunity to explore and appreciate the outdoors. Now, thanks to the hard work and determination of many people, campers have a chapel to appreciate the Lord.

Bishop Richard J. Malone, along with Msgr. Francis Weldgen, former director of the diocesan summer camp; Kathryn M. Goller, director of the diocesan Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, which oversees the camp; and Dan O'Leary, outgoing president of the board for the Friends of Camp Turner, gathered with a over 100 guests to bless and dedicate the new St. Francis Center on May 11.

"Today we gather as one community, from many different walks of life and angles and connections, but what's in common is our shared commitment to the mission of Camp Turner - To honor God in the children confided to our care. This new building is a tangible sign of that mission, and it brings us many wonderful new ways to live out this mission here at camp," said Goller while introducing the center.

The St. Francis Center is a 30-by-90-foot multipurpose hall that will be used as a chapel during the weekly summer sessions and for other special events.

The idea came four years ago when Msgr. Weldgen, who has worked with the diocesan Youth Department and Camp Turner from 1964 to 1985, reflected on the old campsite and noticed that the new camp, built in 1990, had no chapel.

"Four years ago, I had this thought, this dream, this wish if you will, to have a chapel here at the new Camp Turner just as we had at the old Camp Turner. It took a while. Three years in the planning, two years in the fundraising, two years in the building, now finally we are here," he said during the dedication Mass homily.

"I learned many years ago, if you want something done, ask people who know what they're doing," he continued. So, he called some friends in construction and finance, then put the rest on the shoulders of O'Leary and the friends of Camp Turner.

"This is what we have because of you, all of you, in some way have contributed to this building," Msgr. Weldgen said in thanking everyone who donated funds or time to the project, adding that he heard from campers from 50 and 60 years ago who wanted to make a donation.

"We are fulfilling what the Lord asked of us in today's Gospel (Mark 10:13-16). The Lord said, 'Let the children come to me.' This is the place where the children can come in Christ, where the campers in the summer can come and pray and receive the sacraments," Msgr. Weldgen said. "Youth are the greatest resource we have today. We need to build up our youth as Pope Francis keeps challenging us to do. And yet, in this day and age, we see a diminishing number of Catholic schools, education programs are evolving and challenging young people to come to class. Now we have a new resource in the Diocese of Buffalo, this house of worship, this St. Francis Center where young people can come, pray, meditate, receive the sacraments and grow in the faith. We need places like this."

O'Leary recalled his days as a camper having some of his best Masses at the chapel at old site. "It was kind of our cathedral in Allegany State Park," he said.

"We had a lot of years without a chapel," O'Leary said following the Mass. "This is the big milestone. I think the bishop said it. The big thing is, we want to celebrate the Eucharist here. I think Father Fran when he first had this premonition, right over there by that door, that was his whole outlook on it."

The St. Francis name was chosen for the center as a reference to St. Francis of Assisi's love and care for nature. 

Bishop Malone, who blessed the center, said, "I'm delighted we have this wonderful development of the St. Francis Center. Being able to have this here highlights that we are Catholic. This is a ministry to any and all young who can come here. So, it's a good thing."

Camp Turner is a Catholic camp located within Allegany State Park. It offers a  program that is primarily recreational, but also steeped in Catholic values in which staff are trained and encouraged to provide as an authentic witness to the gospels. Counselors hope campers will be open to discover and reflect on concepts like the Golden Rule, the Beatitudes, the Corporal Works of Mercy, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, the importance of a relationship with the divine. Campers are encouraged to seek God's will for their life in each moment of each day in an age appropriate way.

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