New club seeks to unite students through faith, beauty and adventure

Members from JPII Outfitters at the Holy Family Shrine in Gretna, NE., on Sept. 23, 2017. Photo courtesy of Monica Loesel.

By Joseph Lynch, Special to The Circuit.

Bonfires at State Lake, hiking with friends in Weston and an annual trek to the Rockies were once some of the only opportunities at Benedictine College to satisfy students’ itch for adventure.

This semester, that is quickly changing with the emergence of a brand new club centered around camping and the outdoors called JPII Outfitters.

Junior Monica Loesel spent the past summer at Camp Wojtyla in Colorado where she says she fell in love with the authentic conversations and relationships she was able to have while living in the mountains.

Loesel says during that time she was inspired to bring these experiences back to Atchison because she knew a lot of students would be interested in joining something of that nature.

As Loesel soon found out, an unofficial initiatves had already begun on campus.  Sophomores Corey Hallis and Brynn Suellentrop had begun to organize a hiking club at Benedictine, though it had not yet been recognized by the school.

The three shared similar visions and soon decided to collaborate with the help of junior Rachel Shaver and several other students in the creation of the new club, JPII Outfitters.

“Our motto is to pursue the beauty of Christ inherent in community and nature,” Loesel said.  St. John Paul II was chosen as a patron saint.

“JPII embodies adventure — adventure into the heart of Christ,” Loesel said.  “He presents the same faith in a new way by living this lifestyle of fun and craziness and sports and acting and art.”

Corey Hallis, co-founder of JPII Outfitters, pointed out that St. John Paul II’s outdoor adventures with the youth in Poland was an inspiration for the club.

“He got people outside. He got young men outside and he built these relationships,” Hallis said.  “And the caliber of men that came from that is impeccable.”

Loesel and Hallis set up a stand at the club fair in the beginning of the semester and were met with a strong response.  In one day, the club had over 200 members and is still growing.

To match the amount of interest is one thing, the Outfitters are acquiring proper gear. The new camping club will feature what is known at some other college campuses as a “gear-brary.”  Essentially it is a place on campus where students can rent outdoor equipment, solving the problem of students not having the means to go hiking and camping. According to Loesel, the hope is for this rental system to begin early next spring.

With the right gear, the opportunities for the club are nearly endless, ranging from state parks in the midwest to the Rocky Mountains.

“Somebody suggested going to the highest elevation in Kansas,” Loesel said.

So far this fall, the club has held camping trips at Indian Cave State Park in Nebraska and Perry State Lake in Kansas.

Loesel hopes that these kinds of trips will eventually take place on a weekly basis next spring and be largely led by members of the club.

Along with outdoor trips, JPII Outfitters is also sponsoring audiences, which are student talks and discussions on topics that range from theological ideas to practical skills.

“The idea behind the audiences is to get people thinking, to just challenge people to seek out something greater and more,” Hallis said.

Senior Tommy Killacky, a speaker at one of the audiences this fall and a self-proclaimed “very enthusiastic member” of JPII Outfitters, is excited about the new camping club.

“JPII is a club that encompasses what I think is just so important right now which is the need to philosophize, the need to think, to wonder, to awe, to see God in nature,” Killackey said.

The club is continuing to develop and grow, with a logo design to be announced in the near future.

Contact Rachel Shaver at for more information.