Catholic Summer Camps – Keeping Faith Aflame
Daily Mass. Team-building activities, swimming, learning to evangelize, studying the faith, Eucharistic Adoration, Confession, horses, songs, and s’mores. All are part of summertime for many Catholic youths and young adults, and legates are a big part of helping it happen at Catholic summer camps.
Damascus Catholic Mission Campus offers a lake, ponds, wildlife habitats, classrooms, and adventure activity areas for campers. Not just a summer camp, Damascus is the first Catholic Mission Campus ever, with a unique vision to provide a summer camp program called Catholic Youth Summer Camp, as well as retreats for Catholic youths.
Dick Faist, a member of the Genesis Chapter, first met with Dan DeMatte in 2016 and learned about the Catholic Youth Summer Camps DeMatte was co-founding around Ohio, as well as a beautiful, newly acquired site for a camp and retreat center. DeMatte invited Faist and his wife to visit the camp a year later and they were impressed by the closing Mass and the youths’ enthusiasm and expression of faith. “We left the property that day feeling that there is indeed hope for the young generation,” Faist said.
Young campers love the Eucharistic Adoration at the lake during sunset, Confession, Eucharistic processions, daily Mass, and spiritual direction from priests, with chaplains available to campers the entire time—all in the beauty of God’s creation, with no tech devices.
DeMatte knows the camp is bearing abundant fruit. “From the moment young people arrive on campus they realize this place is radically different from anywhere they have ever been,” he said.
God in Nature
Camp Sancta Maria
With 96 acres amid the towering pines of northern Michigan, Camp Sancta Maria has a long history of Catholic youth camping. Founded in 1933, it offers single-gender sessions with zip lines, horse and adventure camps, a new archery range, sports, canoeing, beachfront lake activities, daily prayer and Mass, and a chaplain who is always present. Parent-and-child weekends are very popular. Camp counselors are well-trained, joyful role models from area universities and seminaries. With a newly remodeled mess hall and cabins with fresh bunk beds and mattresses, the camp always strives to upgrade its grounds and facilities.
Richard Genthe, a Legate in the Ann Arbor Chapter, is on the camp’s board of directors. Father Robert Spezia, president of the board, knew of Genthe’s longtime support of a popular nondenominational camp—a camp that draws many young Catholics. Spezia invited Genthe to help Camp Sancta Maria expand and grow, and Genthe hopes he is able in some way to help “get a lot of cross-pollination,” by bringing more of those youths over to Camp Sancta Maria, where they can experience Mass, Confession, and Eucharistic Adoration, and to “put these experiences on par with archery, for example.”
“The mission of Camp Sancta Maria is more crucial than ever: providing a technology-free place where our children can spend time in nature, develop healthy, lifelong relationships with each other, and come to encounter Jesus in a way that changes the trajectory of their lives,” said Fr. Spezia.
A true retreat
At popular Camp Gray, faith comes alive for youths yearround with retreats during the school year and activityfilled camps in the summer. It was established in 1953 by Monsignor Francis Gray for children to get away from their troubles and experience Christ in a new way. A chaplain and a servant-leadership team of hardworking missionaries trained in retreat ministry all come together to do good and give glory to God. Ken Ballweg, president of the Madison Chapter, has been board director, a generous donor, and his children attended the camp. Legatus will come to Camp Gray for the Summer Social and an evening of Mass and dinner is planned, concluding at Lake Jake to watch campers cheer on the culmination of the Cassidy Games, a competition of games.
Jeff Hoeben, executive director of the camp, said that the world of Catholic camps is growing and that with God’s grace, one week at Camp Gray, with Confession, Eucharistic Adoration, and Mass can change a life forever. He said that a camper’s family recently wrote that their son reconnected with his shaky faith and has found spiritual refuge and renewal there.
“Campers have the opportunity to learn the ‘art of living’ surrounded by the beauty of creation,” Hoeben said. “Christian values are present in everything we do…and this makes the experience of coming to a Catholic summer camp transformative in all aspects of one’s life.”
Catholic Worldview Fellowship
This fellowship for American college students and young adults includes four weeks of summer at a castle in the German Rhineland and a week in Rome learning how to evangelize the culture. The Regnum Christi of the Legionaries of Christ select college students and young adults to attend the courses, which are built on four areas of formation: academic, leadership, cultural, and spiritual. Students receive six academic credits from the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum. The program has Mass, spiritual formation, Eucharistic Adoration, and personal dialogue provided by priests and/or consecrated women from the Regnum Christi Movement.
A professional leadership coach gives seminars and offers one-on-one mentoring to students “to provide a holistic, formative experience that bolsters the faith and gives a toolbox on how to effectively evangelize culture,” said Fr. Ryan Richardson, LC, executive director and Dallas Chapter chaplain.
A key component of the fellowship is leadership formation. “My involvement with the Legatus Dallas Chapter has put me in touch with Catholic leaders who are role models on how to be successful in business while pursuing a life of holiness,” he said.
The biggest fruit of the program? “Students realize they are not alone in living out their faith,” he said. “They are now supported by a network of like-minded peers who provide encouragement in their desire to become modern-day saints.”
Campers can “unplug”
For many campers, it is difficult to “unplug” from their phones and tech devices, but soon they thrive. Hoeben says he sees a big change in campers by the third day of camp, when confidence blossoms.
One boy, when first dropped off at Camp Sancta Maria, was devastated to be without his phone. When his father came to pick him up after two weeks, he came bounding across the grass to meet him, shouting, “Hi, Dad! I want to come for three weeks next year!”
Grounding for future
Catholic summer camps have seen many campers grow up to become seminarians, priests, or religious. Some campers grow up and get married to one another and raise Catholic families.
“The kids grow in confidence and begin loving themselves,” DeMatte said. “They say, ‘I came to camp for the Jet Skis, but I left in love with Jesus in the Eucharist.’”
NANCY CARABIO BELANGER is the proofreader for Legatus magazine and an award-winning Catholic children’s author.