Father Mark Beckman loves to spend time in nature hiking. So for his 60th birthday, his parishioners at St. Henry Church spent Oct. 28 and 29 at Camp Marymount with him enjoying a host of outdoors activities.
“Seeing all of you gathered here, there are so many different memories from different parts of my life all through the years, and isn’t that the gift that God creates for each of us to be connected to one another on this journey of life,” Father Beckman said at the end of Mass, which he celebrated Saturday evening outside the main lodge. “This place of Camp Marymount is a special place. Some of you all have been here since you were kids. I came out for the first time in my 20s, so a long time ago, and this is a beautiful, beautiful space.”
Having memories of serving as a counselor, a SEARCH leader, a chaplain and simply enjoying the grounds at Camp Marymount over the years, it’s a space that Father Beckman said he wanted the community to experience together. Making it a celebration for his birthday was just an added bonus.
“That was the idea of my wonderful parish staff,” Father Beckman said. “I think that was very thoughtful and very sweet of them. And it made people want to come, so I’m glad for that.”
“A passion of Father Mark’s is hiking,” said Claire Hale, director of administration at St. Henry. “He loves to explore nature and to share his knowledge of nature, so this is just his way of bringing the community together.”
The festivities for 50 families kicked off Friday evening, Oct. 28, as they camped out in the cabins, carved pumpkins, played flashlight tag and had a bonfire.
“I know a lot of new relationships were made with the people who spent the night. A lot of families got to meet each other,” Hale said. “To see the families exploring and running around and having a good time and making new friends has just been a fabulous experience.”
Saturday was filled with canoeing, hiking, arts and crafts, and a scavenger hunt.
“I think we’ve offered a little bit of something for everyone,” Hale added. “Everyone from the young at heart and all the way up to enjoy this outside weather, and we thank God for this beautiful day.
“In this world of social media and smartphones, it is so good to disconnect now and then,” she said. “I’ve had families tell me how good it has been to leave the smartphones at home and connect as a family.”
The height of the celebration came in the afternoon as Father Beckman celebrated Mass before parishioners enjoyed dinner cooked by the Knights of Columbus Council 12012 at St. Henry, entertainment provided by the Rhythm Kings, and cake and singing for Father Beckman.
Lisa McComb Johnson, a parishioner of St. Henry, who came to the campsite with her family for the day on Saturday, said she enjoyed the opportunity to come together as a parish in such a beautiful place, noting the perfection of opening the Mass with the hymn “For the Beauty of the Earth.”
“Our parish really thrived during the pandemic while holding outdoor Masses, and it’s so much of who Father Mark is because he’s so outdoorsy,” she said. “The times that we can be together as a parish for an extended amount of time in this way are rare, and there’s just something about being outdoors and celebrating God’s nature and the presence of God in this place.
“I think it’s special for a lot of people,” she added.
As celebrations were winding down, Father Beckman said there’s only one thing that would be the icing on top of the perfect birthday cake, as he noted the story of Zacchaeus, which served as the weekend Gospel reading from Luke.
“Zacchaeus was changed by love,” he said, “and I think Jesus wants every one of us to be changed in that way.
“What would make this weekend perfect is that we would all experience just a taste of what Zacchaeus experienced, which is how loved we are by the Lord, so we can help spread that love to others,” Father Beckman said. “That would be the icing on top of the birthday cake.”