Catholic Sentinel photo by Gerry Lewin
Sr. Krista von Borstel at Camp Howard.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Gerry Lewin
Sr. Krista von Borstel at Camp Howard.
She's the Organizer in Chief.

Sister Krista von Borstel has led the Catholic Youth Organization for 15 years, overseeing activities for about 10,000 children annually. CYO runs a summer camp, full seasons for seven sports and nine dances during the year for children from Catholic grade schools.

It's the kind of scheduling thicket that has crushed less orderly people.

Tall and kindly at age 54, Sister Krista learned to be organized early on, growing up the second of six children on a remote Sherman County wheat and cattle farm. For example, to play high school sports (volleyball, track and basketball) she'd have to rise at 4 a.m. and make milk deliveries on the way to morning practices.   

It was a lot to juggle and it prepared her for teaching and school administration, work she did at Valley Catholic during the 1980s and the early '90s. She took on jobs as vice principal and athletic director, taming the chaos with good sense — and by purchasing early database software.

When she was asked to head up CYO in 1997, there were no computers. She soon solved that oversight as part of an effort at keen systemization that has continued to this day, especially as youth participation has surged during her tenure.   
To keep improving the camp, she consults the campers. The large selection of activities has come in part from those talks. On the agenda are hiking, a slip-and-slide, nature exploration, swimming, canoeing, archery, paintball and riflery. That last activity was a natural for Sister Krista, who grew up using guns and still has a passion for trap shooting.

She knew as a child she wanted to be a Sister. As an education student at Oregon State University, she met several Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon and saw great meaning in their lives. In 1980, she joined the religious community, thrilled that the ministry was focused on her home state.

"I'm a rooted person," she says.

Most of the year, she lives in simple quarters at the Sisters' Beaverton motherhouse, a large building with a green dome. During much of the summer, she lives at 240-acre Camp Howard in the Cascade foothills. Living at either place, she works long hours.
One of her chief concerns is cultivating the Catholic identity of CYO. It's essential for her to have some Catholics on her staff.

Early on in her tenure, she hung crucifixes in rooms and cabins at Camp Howard. A public school group that uses the camp each fall removed the holy symbols, not wanting to alienate students. Just after that, Sister Krista had the crucifixes affixed with screws. She thinks of it as evangelization.  

"If we are going to be a Catholic organization, it needs to show," she says.

Sister Krista,who holds a master’s degree in public administration, has never been afraid to stand up for justice. As a teen, she asked officials at Sherman County High why there was no girls basketball team. The school started a team that year, with the girls making their own uniform shirts.

Sister Krista still wants every child to have a fair chance at playing and going to camp and raises funds to make it happen.  

Talking about herself does not come easy for this farm girl. She'd rather sing the praises of others. For years, she has not only led and guided CYO, but written hundreds of newsletter stories about athletes and staff. She gives maximum credit to the employees and the 1,500 volunteer coaches and aides.

She's a patient boss, but does not give second chances when it comes to caring for children. Staff and coaches who don't maintain very high standards get let go. For less grave matters, like a teen trainee referee blowing a call, she is benign.

"We're coaching young people to be leaders," she says. "You need to be forgiving. Often, they don't get it the first time. Sometimes, they don't get it the second time."

Sports, Sister Krista says, teaches young people teamwork, flexibility and how to be gracious in victory and defeat. What, she says with a peaceful smile, could be more important?