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Regent pastor finishes first summer CCD camp for high school students

DICKINSON - What started out a year ago as a simple discussion between two friends ended earlier this week with the conclusion of the first summer Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) program held by the Catholic churches in Hettinger, Scranton and Reeder.

The idea originated while discussing religious education, the Rev. Chad Gion and the Rev. James Shay determined it was almost impossible for students to learn anything from the current CCD format, which holds classes on Wednesday nights.

"By the time they get to that point in the day they have no attention span," Gion, the pastor for parishes in Hettinger, Scranton and Reeder said. "They have no interest in learning anything."

The camp, which was held in Regent, began May 27 and ran through June 3. The camp was made up of 37 students from the communities of Hettinger, Scranton and Reeder, who are entering their freshmen, sophomore and junior years of high school.

Gion said his goal was to teach kids about their faith while instilling in them the three essential parts of the Christian life: service, prayer and study.

"They are teenagers and they are on the cusp of making a lot of decisions on their own," Gion said. "They want to know about life, they want to know what's right and what's wrong and why."

Gion and Shay, who is the pastor in Killdeer, came up with the idea of a summer CCD program or camp where they could plan the student's days around learning about their faith.

Once the decision to hold the camp was made, the next step was to get parents on board, Gion said.

"There are a lot of people who have kids that heard what I was thinking and they thought I was pretty crazy," Gion said, adding that once the parents supported the idea, he didn't stress about the way the kids felt.

"I didn't really care," he laughed. "Once I had the parents on board it didn't matter."

Gion said he knew there would be those students who naturally would be apprehensive to the idea, but after a few days they would hopefully warm up to the camp.

Cloe Kilwein, a junior from Hettinger, said she didn't know what to think going in and wanted the camp to go by fast.

However, she learned more than she expected to.

"More than I thought I would," Kilwein said. "I've been in CCD classes all my life and I think I've learned more this week than I did during all of those other classes."

The classes, which were held throughout the week, covered a variety of topics, but there were four main subjects: Virtues, Scripture, Saints and Catholicism 101.

Gion said the first three classes stayed true to the planned material, but in Catholicism 101, they shook things up a bit.

"The class would start with something formal and then it would just flow," Gion said. "What they wanted to talk about, we just went with."

Ander Thompson, a sophomore from Hettinger said the openness of the classes helped.

"I think he (Gion) taught really well. I came out with a lot more than I took in," Thompson said. "I would learn something and I would want to know more about it so I'd ask a question."

"We could ask anything," Kilwein said.

Gion said the time in class answering the student's questions was fun as well.

"I enjoyed the time in class with the kids immensely," Gion said. "To field their questions, to answer questions they felt strongly about. ...They can disagree with me, that's fine, but they're going to at least listen to what I have to say."

Different parents from the three parishes helped chaperone and make meals each day. The parents were also able to sit in on the classes.

"One of the things the parents have said is that they have been impressed with the quality of the questions being asked," Gion said.

The campers didn't spend all of their time in Regent inside a classroom though.

The students attended the ordination of the Rev. Justin Waltz to the priesthood on May 29, toured Assumption Abbey in Richardton and participated in a service project at the Wert farm near New England, where they helped prepare the farm for the Bismarck Diocese's annual Town and Country Celebration June 22.

Aside from the classes, service projects and tours, the students had plenty of free time to get to know each other better.

"We were all living together and all getting to know each other better and that helped us in getting to know God better," Kilwein said. "I really like how we all pretty much lived under one roof."

Along with befriending each other, the students were able to get to know their pastor on a more comfortable level.

"He's not some guy that's going to just stay in his room," Thompson said.

"He's a really good priest and a really good teacher, but this week it really seems like he's tried to become our friend," Kilwein said. "It's really easy for us to be ourselves around him."

Thompson and Kilwein said the young chaperones Gion recruited for the weekend also helped make them feel welcome.

Gion's younger brother, Troy, and Kim Conlon of Hebron helped at the camp.

"That was great," Thompson said in regards to having Troy and Kim on the weekend. "If it wasn't for this, I would have never known them."

"It was fun having a chaperone that was closer to our age that we could relate to," Kilwein said.

Other chaperones who stayed for the entire week were Rev. Gion's parents, Bonnie and Don Gion, who hosted the students at their two Bed and Breakfasts in Regent, The Crocus Inn, where the girl stayed, and the Buffalo Butte Boarding House, where the boys stayed.

Gion said the students were respectful of the rules and added he was impressed with how well behaved they were.

The week in Regent has also helped Gion share his thoughts on the camp with Shay, who hopes to hold a similar camp in Killdeer later this summer.

Gion said he's happy with how things turned out and hopes he achieved his goal.

"To me, the goal is presenting the faith in such a way it answers those fundamental questions and how it answers them in a meaningful and substantial way," Gion said. "They get to see that being Catholic isn't just about showing up at Mass on Sundays."