Catholic camps can stoke fervor for life
Summer camps are a time for friendships and fun, but Catholic camps offer experiences of faith that remain long after suntans have faded. This article looks at three camps — two which bring faith into summer activities, and one that equips teens for the serious business of defending life.
Inspiring faith active kids …
Camp Fatima for boys and Camp Bernadette for girls, twin camps in the diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, offer the quintessential camp experience for ages 6-15. They also include Sunday Mass, a vocation talk, evening prayers, the opportunity for Confession, adoration, and activities such as Rosary Club.
According to Michael Drumm, CEO of the camps who worked his way up from a camp counselor in 1994, the fruits of the camp last long after summer is over. “One kid stopped coming after his parents divorced,” Drumm said. “He came back a few years later as a staff member. Being at the camp inspired him to do more about his faith. He got confirmed in college and credited his summers at Fatima as part of the inspiration to return to the faith.”
These days, camping is also serious business. Employees and volunteers get background checks and serious training. “Our counselors understand the magnitude of the job they have,” Drumm said. “It’s not like working at fast food.”
… including special-needs campers
The Manchester camps reflect Catholic values each summer by also serving the less fortunate. Their special-needs camp for the developmentally disabled includes both children and adults. In addition, Special Citizens Week was added for campers with disabilities needing one-on-one care. That week in August is a free gift of love. All 180 counselors and 100 support staff such as nurses, cooks, janitors, people working the waterfront, and all activities, volunteer their time. Fundraising and donations cover the cost.
Michael Veneziano first attended Camp Fatima at age 13 and stayed on as a counselor until he was 21. After earning a degree in sports communication, he landed his dream job at ESPN in Connecticut. For six summers, he returned to work at the special-needs camp. “It would be the best week of my year,” he explained. By year seven, Veneziano considered: “Who really cares whether someone had eight or nine assists in a game? But if you make an impact in someone’s life, that really matters.” Veneziano went back to school and is a special education teacher now for middle school students.
Teaching authentic femininity and masculinity
In the diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota, Camp Beloved is for girls grade 7-12 and Camp Greatness for boys has a session for grades 6-8 and another for grades 9-12. The week-long camps include outdoor fun, daily Mass, time for adoration, learning chant, and a talk on vocations.
According to Kevin Losleben, director of youth ministry for the diocese, the camps used to be coed but were separated several years ago, offering the freedom to talk about issues specific to boys and girls. “They have the freedom not to worry about what the opposite sex is thinking and focus on Jesus,” he said.
The Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus, a new order of nuns, run the girls camp. Their charism is imitating Mary while carrying out the New Evangelization in parishes. “The camp is called Camp Beloved because girls often struggle with self-image and knowing they are loved,” Losleben explained. “It highlights femininity and instills what it means to be a beloved daughter of God.”
Losleben runs the boys camp which focuses on masculinity and being a man of God. “The boys camp is super high-energy and intense which is one of the big draws,” he said. “One of our capstone games is man-ball which is like a free-for-all version of dodgeball.” Another favorite activity last summer, he said, was a mud obstacle course that two of the seminarians put together.
Cole McKeown, a physical therapist who is married with a second baby on the way, attended the camp for five years as a teen and worked another five years as a counselor. “I think the best thing was when the bishop required all the seminarians to go to the camp,” he said. “As a young teenager, seeing good holy men discern their vocation was very influential. It showed that to be a strong Catholic man (especially seminarians and priests) didn’t mean you were an anti-social freak.” McKeown said he returned as a counselor because he recognized the importance of positive male role models for boys.
Defending the essence of life
Vox Vitae (Voice for Life) began in 2015 for teens 14-19, founded by Catherine Contreras, the respect life coordinator for St. Therese Catholic Church in Alhambra, California. As a secular Carmelite, she credits Our Lady of Mount Carmel with inspiring Vox Vitae and hopes it will one day spread throughout the country.
Although Contreras was always pro-life, it was in the last 10 years that she became informed and committed to it. “I started praying and doing sidewalk counseling and trying to help mothers,” she said. “I’ve held men and women who had abortions, crying with them, and also held babies in my arms who have been saved.”
The classroom camp equips teens to become a voice for the unborn and at the end of the week, they pray and engage in sidewalk counseling at an abortion facility. But first, they are led to Jesus and Mary through learning the faith, listening to renowned speakers, practicing debate and dialogue, and receiving the sacraments. Teens also learn about Eucharistic miracles and listen to scientists impress upon them that it truly is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ. There are also evening sessions with the speakers for the adults.
“We are planting seeds that will be fruitful throughout their lives,” Contreras said. Not everyone is comfortable speaking out, at least at first, but even just praying helps, she said. “When people pray in front of an abortion facility, less people go in. And the longer a mother carries her baby, the more likely she will keep it.”
Boys are shown that this is their issue too. “They are going to be dating girls and this is a humanity issue,” Contreras said. “They have a right to an opinion.”
Michaela Lessard, a senior in high school, has attended the camp for two summers. “Although I have grown up in a devout Catholic family and knew abortion was wrong,” she said, “it was the speakers at Vox Vitae that opened my eyes to the urgency of the issue. They gave us hard facts. It was only when I saw the urgency of the fight for life that I gained the courage to take my place in the ranks.”
Lessard said that the speaker, Fr. Stephen Imbarrato, explained that the pro-life battle is spiritual, so prayer is vital. “Vox Vitae nourished our spirit so that no amount of angry shouting, middle fingers, or bad weather could kill it,” she said. “The first time I talked to some pro-choicers, they were very outspoken, and I was intimidated. But practice makes perfect. Though I am far from perfect, I am not nearly as scared. Vox Vitae gave me an arsenal of knowledge.”
PATTI ARMSTRONG is a Legatus magazine contributing writer.