Sr. Krista von Borstel laughs during a session at Camp Howard. (Courtesy CYO/Camp Howard)
Sr. Krista von Borstel laughs during a session at Camp Howard. (Courtesy CYO/Camp Howard)
On any given weekend, Sister Krista von Borstel stands for long stretches at along the track, poolside, on the sidelines or at summer camp dispensing encouragement to sweaty or dripping wet youngsters who have given their all, win or lose. Along with a sense of accomplishment, Catholic Youth Organization athletes and Camp Howard attendees receive a solid lesson in fairness and grace from Sister Krista, who does her best to infuse everything — even frantic, close games — with the ways of Jesus.

“I have seen the transformation of kids through sports and camping,” said Sister Krista, a Sister of St. Mary of Oregon who has led CYO/Camp Howard for 25 years. “These activities build necessary Christian values needed to live a successful life.”

CYO and Camp Howard touch the lives of 11,000 youths each year. In her time at the helm, Sister Krista has turned the organization from a leaky nonprofit into a smooth-sailing enterprise. It stayed afloat even when a pandemic struck like an iceberg out of nowhere, shutting down youth sports and summer camps. Like any good captain, she had to make tough decisions but did it with fairness.

Champion of Catholicism

Sister Krista sees her chief accomplishment as reviving the organization’s Catholic identity. None of CYO/Camp Howard’s leaders were Catholic when she arrived in 1997. Now the staff is full of Catholics who understand church teaching and culture. “It makes for real cohesiveness on the staff,” Sister Krista said. “I just love that.”

CYO/Camp Howard is Sister Krista’s first ministry as top leader. But a stint as vice principal of Valley Catholic High School helped her, as she puts it, “develop a spine.” That has come in handy when working with zealous coaches and parents who, on occasion, need to be reminded of Christian values.

Sister Krista hopes that young people who play CYO sports or attend Camp Howard walk away having met Christ and having built up their confidence. She hopes they have met kind adults along the way.

Sister Michael Francine Duncan, superior general of the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon, recalls making a trip to Camp Howard, where leaders of public school groups kept removing crucifixes and putting them in drawers. The two nuns spent a day toting power drills and screws, firmly affixing the crucifixes to the walls.

“Our CYO/Camp Howard in western Oregon is unique in the nation for its energy, reach and deep sense of faith,” said Archbishop Alexander Sample. “Sister Krista, working closely with the Lord, deserves our deepest gratitude. It has become clear over the past 25 years that she was meant for this ministry of marshalling volunteers, setting high standards and creating moments of joy for our young people. I am personally touched at how she maintains CYO’s foundation of Christian belief.”

One of Sister Krista’s favorite things is when families come back to Mass because of CYO or Camp Howard. Over the years, she has learned ways to be a servant leader who collaborates with others. Jesus is her role model.

Skilled leader

“She is an unbelievable blessing to our community,” said Bob Burtchaell, a longtime CYO/Camp Howard supporter. “She is absolutely afraid of nothing.”

Burtchaell recalls marveling as the nun sloshed around a rainy camp in rubber boots doing manual labor one day and then convincing big donors to contribute the next.

“If Sister Krista had decided to become a realtor or a life insurance saleswoman, she would be at the top in America,” Burtchaell said. “And as part of all that she is very fair.”

She grew up on remote a ranch in north central Oregon, milking cows, selling eggs to neighbors, defrosting frozen water troughs and slinging bales of hay. The animals depended on her and her five siblings’ dogged work.

At Sherman High School, she asked administrators for more girls’ sports. They listened, and she emerged as a star in track, basketball and volleyball. As CYO chief, she makes sure boys and girls alike have plenty of opportunity.

Many sports and camp programs have improved measurably in 25 years. With the help of John Cronise, Sister Krista led a move to electronic timing for track and field. She shortened track meets to help families have more time together.

Through recruitment and good organizing, CYO basketball went from 32 junior high teams to more than 300 teams, with all grades included.

She has guided upgrades at Camp Howard, adding a new dining hall and a welcome center with offices, which she said has improved the way camp operates. Sister Krista also spruced up cabins.

She has overseen a major boost in access to sports and camp. Since she launched an annual fundraising dinner, no one has been turned away because of lack of money.

“Sister Krista is quite a gal,” said Joe Weston, one of the top philanthropists in the region. “She’s been a good leader. People have good respect for her. She’s a doer, and that’s what we need. She helps people who need help.”

“She is a fabulous leader,” said Gary Epping, president of the philanthropic Epping Foundation. “She is one of those can-do people, an amazing blend of faith and yet down to earth. I think of the number of kids she has helped.”

“CYO today is a well-run organization,” said Brian Thompson, chairman of the CYO/Camp Howard board. “Sister Krista has some pretty amazing skills. She motivates volunteers. In operations, she understands what the important pieces are. And she always comes back to Catholic values.”

Sister Krista has two big dreams left. First is building a new chapel at Camp Howard. Second is establishing an endowment so sports and camp can survive more challenges like the pandemic.

Meant for the job

“To say Sister Krista is a force to be reckoned with is an understatement,” said Sheri Dooney, a longtime friend and supporter. “She never gives up. The impact she has made is incredible, for the children and their greater good, and the experiences and memories they are making. CYO and Camp Howard are so much better today because of Sister Krista’s sheer determination to make a lasting and fruitful impact for the youth.”

Karen von Borstel, a blood sister and property manager at Camp Howard, said Sister Krista is motivated first by faith and second by seeing young people grow in joy. Karen likes to look at the photos of Sister Krista standing with teams and notice the faces of children who are excited and proud and looking up at a woman who has given her life to Christ.

“I think she was meant for that job,” Karen said.

Sister Krista, always working to advance the ministry, is deeply content.

“There has hardly been a day of my life that I have not loved everything about the work that I have been blessed to do,” she said. “I am grateful to God and all of the wonderful people I have met through my ministry here.”