(October 4th, 2023) By Mike Doyle of Troop 41
Blessed with perfect weather, five troops from Pennsylvania converged on Ridley Creek State Park in Media, PA, for a regional campout during the weekend of August 18-20, 2023. More than a hundred dads and cadets from Troop 17 (Lancaster), Troop 41 (Willow Grove), Troop 125 (Annville), Troop 1788 (Conshohocken), and Troop 1920 (Pottstown) enjoyed a weekend of outdoor activities, prayer, and Catholic fellowship. The troops were joined by Bishop Joseph L. Coffey of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, who gave an inspiring talk around the campfire on Saturday night and presided at Mass on Sunday morning.
The weekend kicked off on Friday afternoon, as cadets cleared heavy branches that had fallen during recent storms and cut firewood in preparation the weekend ahead. The troops gathered in formation at 1800 hours to raise the flag and begin the weekend in prayer. Cadets and dads then spent time pitching tents, building fires for dinner, and becoming acquainted with one another. Following a flag lowering ceremony, the troops gathered around a campfire to recite the Rosary and Compline, which was led by John Shiffler of Troop 17 and Mike DeCristofaro of Troop 125.
Rising early for prayer and the flag raising, the troops had a full day of activities on Saturday. Park naturalist Gary Stolz conducted guided tours of the 2,600-acre park, pointing out many of the plants and animals that make up its diverse ecosystem. Some dads and cadets also went fishing at Ridley Creek, while other dads led sessions on knot tying, first aid, jiu jitsu, orienteering, and apologetics. During the afternoon, the troops were joined by Father Carl Gismondi, FSSP; Father Federico Masutti, FSSP; and Father Ruben Nuxoll, LC, who heard confessions in quiet areas of the campsite.
Bishop Coffey arrived at the campsite early Saturday evening. A native Philadelphian, Bishop Coffey served as an active duty Navy chaplain for 17 years before being appointed as a bishop in 2019. Bishop Coffey spoke to the cadets around the campfire, telling them about the challenges he faced in pursuing his vocations to the priesthood and to military life. He also spoke of the dedication and perseverance displayed by the marines and sailors he served with in Afghanistan and on deployments aboard the USS George Washington and the USS Ronald Reagan. Following a question and answer session, Bishop Coffey joined the troops for Rosary, Compline, and lively discussions around the campfire.
Bishop Coffey celebrated Holy Mass at the campsite on Sunday morning. Father Stephen Logue, chaplain at Lancaster Catholic High School, concelebrated, and John Shiffler served as master of ceremonies. Several cadets served as altar boys and handled the readings. During his homily, Bishop Coffey exhorted the cadets to protect those who are vulnerable in our society, including the victims of bullying. Following Mass, the troops presented Bishop Coffey with a Troops of St. George baseball hat, campfire mug, and rosary, and thanked him for taking time out of his busy schedule to join them.
The regional campout was a great success, as it provided an opportunity for troops to interact and exchange ideas about running a successful Troops of St. George program. The troops were especially grateful to the priests who took time out of their busy schedules to join them. They were also grateful to their patron, St. George, whose intercession was undoubtedly responsible for the perfect weather!