Reverend Ralph W. Beiting, founder of the Christian Appalachian Project and a Roman Catholic priest, was born and raised in northern Kentucky. He began dreaming of helping people in Appalachia help themselves out of poverty in 1946 when, as a seminarian, he accompanied several priests on preaching trips to the mountains of eastern Kentucky. The oldest of eleven children who grew up during the Great Depression, Reverend Beiting was no stranger to need, but the soul-shattering poverty he observed in Appalachia planted the seeds of a vision that eventually became the Christian Appalachian Project.
After ordination in 1949, Reverend Beiting was assigned to work as an assistant pastor in a northern Kentucky parish and as a math teacher at Newport Catholic High School. He tells a story of a meeting with Bishop William Mulloy one year after he began his work. “I had been working happily as an assistant pastor when the bishop asked to speak to me,” he said.
At the meeting Reverend Beiting learned he had been selected to pastor a large portion of east central Kentucky. He was elated despite the fact that there were no churches or rectories in the area. “On October 7, 1950,” he said, “I found myself in Appalachia, pastor of a non-existent church in a parish the size of the state of Rhode Island. I thought to myself, ‘This has got to be some mistake.’ If it was, it was the happiest mistake of my life.”
As a seminarian, Reverend Beiting learned that all people — not just Catholic people — were part of his ministry, and in Appalachia he quickly found that for many of his people the greatest need was not spiritual, but physical. Discovering far more need than he could alleviate by himself, he called on his family and friends in northern Kentucky for help. In the early years, he frequently made trips to pick up food, clothing and household goods from his friends and family.
In 1957, he and his associate pastor, Reverend Herman Kamlage, pooled their small stipends and bought land on Herrington Lake in Garrard County, Kentucky, to start a summer camp for boys. Named Cliffview Lodge, it was integrated (during the days when segregation was expected) and incorporated independently from the Catholic Diocese of Covington. Cliffview offered recreation and fellowship in a Christian atmosphere to boys from poor families in the counties where Reverend Beiting ministered. The summer camp ministry was a success, and in 1964 Reverend Beiting gave a name to his growing ministry and declared it “would be a group that would roll up our sleeves and get the job done.” Thus, the Christian Appalachian Project was born and incorporated shortly thereafter.
From a young priest’s determination that he would contribute more than asked of him, has grown one of the largest non-profit organizations in the eastern half of the United States. As challenges in Appalachia continue to change, CAP continues to adapt to meet urgent needs and to afford Appalachian people living in poverty the opportunities to become self sufficient and independent.Share