As the new school year begins, summer will soon become a faint memory of good times shared with friends – of endless days of fun and leisure.
For participants of St. Michael’s Abbey summer camp however, fun in the sun was also balanced with prayer, brotherhood, and team activities that instill long lasting virtues of a fatherly heart.
Since 1962, the popular all-boys sleepaway camp is a place where children ages 7 to 14 enjoy traditional camp activities like hiking and sports – also find spiritual fulfillment through activities such as prayer and catechism.
The Abbey’s priests and seminarians take on the roles of camp directors, counselors and staff. Four, one-week sessions are offered for up to 100 campers during July and August.
The sessions fill up fast and are consistently at full capacity.
FINDING A BALANCE
The camp’s daily schedule is testament to balancing childhood fun with deeper, spiritual meaning.
The morning schedule parallels the priestly life, beginning with a 45-minute Mass, a nod to the camps’ value of forming a priestly heart.
There’s also morning exercise, breakfast and bunk inspection. Activities include basketball, soccer and even more “vintage” fun like kick the can. Campers are taught the value of good sportsmanship and the value of winning in a charitable way.
Fr. Louis Hager, O. Praem, the camp chaplain, speaks highly of teaching campers to have a balance and not let activities take away from living.
“I love to see them be enthralled in simple gestures in the sun and dirt,” he said. “They get to remove themselves from the tech world and also take their spiritual life seriously. Adoration becomes fun.”
To settle the soul, evening prayer by the campfire caps off a long day.
ST. MICHAEL’S ABBEY SUMMER CAMP’S DAILY SCHEDULE IS A TESTAMENT TO BALANCING CHILDHOOD FUN WITH DEEPER, SPIRITUAL MEANING. PHOTO BY IAN TRAN/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
“It’s a full circle for me,” said Fr. Louis, who has been involved with the camp in some capacity for the last 24 years. “I grew up going to the summer camp from the time I was 7 and then came back as a high schooler to volunteer.”
Fr. Louis then helped as a counselor and seminarian commander until he was able to lead the camp and pass on his knowledge during this formational time in campers’ lives.
Fr. Louis explained that the camp only goes up to the age of 14 because of its strong emphasis on service after formation
“Our volunteers are high school boys ages 15-17,” he said. “This way, as volunteers, they provide more service than reception. It leads them to ask, ‘what good do you put into things?’”
As a former seminarian leading the camp, Fr. Louis recognizes that there is still a great amount of learning with the seminarians as they aim to be prudent about giving to the boys while also maintaining their own spiritual life. Leading by example, they share the fruits of their spiritual life.
With all these aspects in balance, it is no surprise that St. John Bosco is the patron of the camp.
The saint is at the center of the camp and they often refer to this saying:
Run, jump, have all the fun you want at the right time, but for Heaven’s sake, do not commit sin!
The day ends honoring God with these lyrics from “Taps”:
“Day is done. Gone the Sun, from the lakes, from the hills, from the sky. All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.”
Leading by example is a central theme as camp. Attendees not only learn from their camp leaders, but also from each other. Some boys have even been inspired to go to confession for the first time in a long time. Others who were not raised in the faith have been inspired to receive the sacraments.
The boys camp has been so successful that a newer girls camp modelled after it is offered at the neighboring Santiago Retreat Center.
For more information on St. Michael’s Abbey Summer Camp, visit https://stmichaelsabbey.com/summer-camp/