No place like home

RURAL NEWCASTLE – More than 100 friends and family of Father James Kramper gathered Sept. 23 to celebrate completion of his retirement home in the rolling hills between Ponca and Newcastle, about 20 miles from the farm where he grew up.
But Casa de Paz – House of Peace – is more than his retirement home. 
The main room is a chapel, with a waterfall-fountain flowing between rows of bleacher-like seating that rise in large, wide steps up from an altar. Stations of the Cross plaques mark each wall, seven going up, seven coming down. A wooden bridge at the top spans the fountain. 
On the other side of the open, large room is the main entrance, with a full-size windmill and a stained glass window. Two wings of the home meet in the chapel area, one wing for sleeping and the other with a commercial-sized kitchen and large dining room.
The home’s two guest rooms sleep a total of about 20 people. Each has two queen-size beds for adults and a loft for sleeping bags and children. 
“It’s not the easiest way to retire, but it’s the most fun,” Father Kramper, 72, said of his 30-year dream of creating a rural getaway for families. 
Father Kramper’s dream began shortly after he and about a dozen others on a three-day, young adult retreat built a chapel out of cedar trees and held Mass inside. The chapel stayed up and over time more than 500 people visited the site to pray.
“That’s when I said, ‘when I’m ready to retire I’m going to build a peaceful place for whole families,” he said.
He retired last year after 44 years in more than a dozen parishes across the archdiocese, and he’s gotten help from hundreds of people to realize his dream, including Ken and Mary Ann Kneifl of St. Peter Parish in Newcastle, who sold Father Kramper the 10-acre site for his barn-like retirement home.
Then there’s Larry and Nancy Shavlik of St. Boniface Parish in Elgin, who helped him pick out two stock tanks, which they donated – one for the indoor windmill and water fountain, another for the two pet donkeys that graze along the complex’s nature trail in the woods.
Omer and Joan Hoffman of St. Theresa of Avila Parish in Clearwater also wanted to do something to help. When Father Kramper asked, “Have you ever had a bridge named after you?” they hemmed and hawed about their name being attached. But they immediately covered the cost of the nature trail’s footbridge – an initial $500 venture that with repair and other costs grew into a $5,000 bridge.
Each of those families and others have known Father Kramper for decades. And they all wanted to help.
“We’ve been close friends with Father since he was a pastor here,” said Deacon Dennis Knudsen of St. Peter Parish in Newcastle, who with his wife, Bethene, is on the board of Casa de Paz and helped throw the party. “This was his first pastorate.”
The party included wood-grilled hot dogs and bratwurst, Polish, ring and summer sausages, potatoes, homemade caramel rolls, watermelon and cantaloupe.
There were prayers, laughter and stories.
And perhaps some of the retreat home’s first customers.
Teresa Kester of St. Theresa of Avila Parish in Clearwater and one of her six sisters, Patricia True of St. Mary of the Seven Dolors Parish in Osmond, hope to gather up all of the sisters for a prayerful sibling reunion.
“It’s a nice getaway from everyday activity,” Kester said. “There is a sense of being closer to God.”
See photo gallery from Casa de Paz at the bottom of the home page.
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