July 3, 2015

Making a world of difference

CYO honors camp’s first counselor for helping to create legacy of fun, friendship and faith

A sea of smiling children and youths at Camp Rancho Framasa in Brown County on June 17 give their thumbs-up signs of appreciation to Pat Cronin, the first counselor at the archdiocese’s Catholic Youth Organization summer camp when it opened in 1946. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

A sea of smiling children and youths at Camp Rancho Framasa in Brown County on June 17 give their thumbs-up signs of appreciation to Pat Cronin, the first counselor at the archdiocese’s Catholic Youth Organization summer camp when it opened in 1946. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

BROWN COUNTY—The magic of feeling young again can come in different ways during the summer.

Sometimes, it returns when an adult reaches for a lightning bug flickering in the backyard.

Other times, the magical connection of summer and youth reappears with the lick of an ice cream cone or a dash through a sprinkler.

For Pat Cronin, the years seemed to disappear when she returned to Camp Rancho Framasa in Brown County on June 17—and that was even before the surprise that awaited her on that day at the archdiocesan Catholic Youth Organization’s (CYO) summer camp.

Even if the surprise had never happened—and the story of that surprise will be shared shortly—the trip back in time to the camp would have been worth it on so many levels for Cronin, who will turn 90 in January.

As she received a tour of the camp during a ride with the CYO’s executive director Ed Tinder, the memories of her childhood, her youth and her young adulthood rushed back to her.

Once again, she remembered the struggle she faced at age 10 and the impact it had on her life.

“I was real sick when I was 10,” recalled Cronin, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis. “I had double pneumonia. The doctor told my parents that I needed a lot of fresh air. My parents bought a place on a creek in southern Indiana. We stayed down there in the summer time. I was never inside playing. I loved the outdoors.”

She also recalled herself at 20, when she became the first counselor ever at the CYO camp—during its first sessions in 1946. That was the year when a Catholic couple donated 280 acres of land in Brown County to the CYO, and then-CYO-director Msgr. Richard Kavanagh hired Cronin and Rita Scheller to lead a two-week camp session for 18 girls.

“We were both outdoor people, and he knew us,” Cronin said, noting that Scheller died recently. “It was just the two of us. We didn’t have a lot when the camp started. We didn’t have indoor plumbing. We were outside as much as we could be, and we had a big campfire. I just think of the happiness of the children who came. They came in meek, and all of a sudden they blossomed out. I enjoyed seeing the friendships they made.”

She also remembered the unexpected visitor that tested her as a counselor.

“One time, there was a snake in the bunkhouse, and all the girls were crying and screaming,” she recalled with a smile. “I got a stick, put it under the snake, wrapped the snake around the stick, and threw the snake in the woods. The snake never knew what hit it.”

Cronin had her own sensation of being overwhelmed as Tinder gave her a tour through the camp that strives to be a place of fun, friendship and faith to the 1,900 young campers who will spend time there this summer.

The tour led past the pool, the chapel, the challenge course, the stations of the cross, the cabins that are each named for a saint, the lake where campers paddled in canoes, and the outdoor amphitheater that serves as a setting for drama classes on most days and Mass for the campers on Fridays.

“One of the things that we teach the kids is that this is all given to us by God,” Tinder told Cronin during the tour. “And they have a lot of fun when they’re here, too. This place is one of the greatest assets the archdiocese has.”

As Tinder’s tour reached the dining hall that has a large crucifix on its most prominent interior wall, Cronin said, “I wonder if Monsignor Kavanagh and Rita are looking down on us. I just wish they were here with me. I’m just in awe of all of this.”

That feeling would reach an even higher level for Cronin when, just before lunch that day, Tinder gathered together the 236 week-long campers and 70 counselors.

Standing on a picnic table outside the dining hall, Tinder told the youthful crowd that he wanted to introduce them to a special guest—the first counselor who served at the camp when it opened nearly 70 years ago. The introduction surprised Cronin, yet not as much as the presentation that Tinder next made to her.

“We are so grateful to people like Pat Cronin,” Tinder told the campers and the counselors. “She and a few others created something that all of us benefit from today. In our lives—myself and all of you—we have a responsibility to do something that benefits the generations beyond us.”

Tinder then showed the plaque that was specially made for Cronin, reading its inscription to the group: “Your support and love for Camp Rancho Framasa has made a world of difference in thousands of young campers’ lives. God bless you, Counselor Pat Cronin.”

Within seconds, the campers and counselors surrounded Cronin, cheering for her as they created a sea of thumbs-up signs around her. The scene touched Cronin, who has been a faithful supporter of CYO since she served as a counselor at the summer camp for two weeks for about 10 years.

“I’m overwhelmed,” she said as she held the plaque. “I’m so proud of it. I didn’t dream this would ever happen. My heart was beating extra.”

The magical connection of summer and youth were hers again in that moment. She smiled and said, “To know all these children are here and benefitting from this, I hope CYO camp can go on forever.”

(For more information about Camp Rancho Framasa, visit the website www.cyoarchindy.org, and click on the heading “CYO Camp Rancho Framasa” at the top of the screen.)

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