By Jim Gauger
Special to The CS&T

WEST CHESTER – At SS. Simon and Jude Parish in West Chester, it is called Vacation Bible Camp, not vacation Bible school.

A small but important distinction, says Sister Barbara Jude Gentry, I.H.M., director of religious education at SS. Simon and Jude and coordinator of the camp. The children might connect the word school with more of a formal setting, she explained.

The emphasis is on strengthening the campers’ Catholic faith during a week of fun activities. “We enjoy our time together,” Sister Barbara Jude said.

The camp was held July 13-17 at the parish’s campus for children who are ages 4 through 11. About 140 children attended.

“That’s the maximum because of the materials,” Sister Barbara Jude said. “We have a wonderful team. We have younger camp counselors, seventh grade to high school. There are 35 of them. We also have 45 adults, which includes people behind the scenes. We’re blessed.”

Sister Barbara Jude planned the week’s program through published materials that she tailored to the needs of the SS. Simon and Jude community.

The children are spanided into 14 groups, with usually 10 in a group according to age level. A large number of children are in kindergarten and first grade. The volunteer staff shares Scripture stories and songs.

“They also help with the environment,” Sister Barbara Jude said. “The decorating team works hard to transform the school area. They help the children use their imaginations.” The theme this year – Bible Bayou – includes wetlands and marshes designed from paper. The children’s groups all have names, such as “gators” and “docksiders.” Sister Barbara Jude goes along with the fun with the nickname “Crocodile Nun-Dee” after the movie hero, Crocodile Dundee.

Camp started at 9:15 in the morning and went until 12:15 p.m.

The time spent at camp enabled children and families to understand that God is always with them and that someday they are going to be with God in heaven, Sister Barbara Jude explained. “God is alive and well here on earth. It is a program for faith development that leads to eternal dwelling with God.”

This is accomplished through songs, small pamphlets, crafts and games. Each day is devoted to a brief summary of five Bible stories: day 1, God Speaks to Moses in the Burning Bush; day 2, God Sends Plagues to Egypt; day 3, God spares the Israelites at Passover; day 4, Jesus Dies and Comes Back to Life; and day 5, the Israelites Cross the Red Sea. Each segment of the day’s program, including nutritious snacks, ties to the Bible story of that day.

Sister Barbara Jude emphasizes an important part of each day. “We are hoping to have God sightings,” she said, “finding God in everyday lives, watching for God.”

July 15 was designated crazy hat day. Another day featured a May procession on which the children presented flowers to the Blessed Mother.

Parents and friends were invited to a special program July 17 that concluded the camp. The children performed songs they learned, and crafts made during camp were on display. There was also a visit from a mission priest.

Sister Barbara Jude says children who attended last year’s camp still sing the songs they learned.

“I am amazed at the joy that is shared during the week,” she said. “All the people coming together, learning about the Catholic faith in a fun-type environment that touches their lives forever.”

None of this would be possible without the volunteers, emphasizes Sister Barbara Jude. They are the well-oiled machine that makes the camp a success.

Msgr. Francis W. Beach, pastor of St. Simon and Jude Parish, and Fathers Joseph M. Glatts and Jeff Rott, parochial vicars at the parish, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters have all been supportive, Sister Barbara Jude said.

At the conclusion of the camp, she and the volunteers met to evaluate the week and see how it can be strengthened for next year.

“The volunteers work hours and hours to plan the camp,” Sister Barbara Jude said. It’s hard work but the benefits are out of this world.”

Jim Gauger is a freelance writer and a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish, Glenside.