Patti Keane and Liz Hartigan
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HANSON -- Every year, as the weather warms and children prepare themselves for summer vacation, Patti Keane and Liz Hartigan get to work.
As co-directors of the Vacation Bible School at St. Joseph the Worker Parish, Keane and Hartigan, along with fellow director Kelly Baker, accommodate 200 children, preschool through grade five, in the weeklong camp.
“Catholic churches around this area don’t really run a Vacation Bible School,” explained Keane. “A while back Father Mark (Hannon) thought to start running one, and that’s how we began.”
The camp began 10 years ago, and has increased in popularity each year, Hartigan added. Even though the camp has spaces for 200 children, “there is always a waitlist,” she said.
According to Hartigan, each day campers are met with a Bible story, music, video, arts and crafts and outdoor games, all related to that day’s theme.
“The kids always look forward to music the most,” Hartigan said with a smile.
To keep things running smoothly, 70 school-age volunteers and 70 adult volunteers help run the three-hour program each day. Keane, who works closely with the youth volunteers, said she is amazed at how close the teens get during the camp.
“The week they come together, they become an amazing family,” she said, adding that “the wonderful thing is that we are seeing many middle schoolers and high schoolers who were once part of the camp return year after year to volunteer.”
“My two oldest are part of the ones who have gone through the program and are now returning as volunteers,” she added. Keane, 40, also has two younger children who participate in the camp.
Hartigan, also 40, has two children, both of whom also participate in the Vacation Bible School.
Both women noted that the camp has helped their family get closer to their faith.
“My kids see that church is a place you go because we want to go, not because you have to go,” Hartigan said.
In addition to their work with the Vacation Bible School, Keane and Hartigan are also members of the Children’s Liturgy Committee. The committee, which is composed of 11 members, meets monthly to discuss the readings and decide the theme of each week’s children’s liturgy.
“We try to make sure it’s in a language and in a form that the children can understand,” Keane said.
Unlike some parishes that take the children to a separate area during the liturgy, St. Joseph’s keeps the children together with their parents, Keane explained.
“We have gotten a lot of feedback from parents about how much they prefer it this way,” Hartigan said. “The parents hear the homily and can talk to their children afterwards about it.”
The children’s liturgy committee also encourages children to actively participate in the Mass, with several children trained as lectors, ushers and greeters.
“The children own this Mass,” Keane said. “They are an active part, not just people sitting in the pews.”
Cradle Catholics, Keane and Hartigan both became parishioners at St. Joseph’s in their adult years. Keane was a parishioner first, and invited Hartigan, her childhood friend, to attend the children’s Mass shortly after her first child was born.
“And I have stayed ever since,” joked Hartigan.
Both praised the vitality of the parish.
“There is a very strong sense of community and family. Everyone comes together to help everyone else,” said Hartigan.