Introducing Annunciation Heights

New camp seeks to create new traditions for youth and families

Aaron Lambert

Nestled in the Rocky Mountains and resting in the shadow of Long’s Peak, a new adventure for Catholic youth and families awaits.

Annunciation Heights is a new Catholic youth and family camp located just south of Estes Park in the Archdiocese of Denver. Acquired late last year, the four-lodge, 188-bed camp will serve as home for new summer youth and family camps, spring and fall outdoor lab programs, and year-round youth, college and parish ministry retreats.  The hope is for Annunciation Heights is to provide a place for visitors to get away from the hustle and bustle of life to gather in a beautiful setting only Colorado can offer, be served by a great staff and ultimately, grow closer to Christ.

“At the very core of everything, we’re trying to provide a beautiful, adventurous, and sacred setting for youth and young adults, parish groups and families to be brought into a deeper friendship with Jesus,” said Kyle Mills, Executive Director of Annunciation Heights.  “Our camp offers all the adventurous elements kids will love; a zip line, a lake with fishing, paddle boarding, and canoeing; a low and high ropes course and climbing wall, just to name a few, but most of all, I believe our camp will make a difference in the lives of young people because we intend to shower them with the love of Christ.”

The name of the camp was chosen deliberately because of when the camp was discovered – during the Archdiocesan consecration to Jesus through Mary.  Mary’s example of openness and responsiveness to God’s plan for her life is what Mills hopes the camp can emulate.

“What the name does is it begins telling the story of Christ and the story of every believer,” Mills explained. “If you think about it, the Divine Messenger comes to a teenage girl, at a particular place in Israel, at a particular point in history and says, ‘The Lord is with you’. Presenting the sublime reality that Lord is truly with each of us will be a special point emphasis at Annunciation Heights.

“The mystery [of the Annunciation] helps introduce what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, exemplified most of all by the Blessed Mother who demonstrates by her faith and docility how to respond to the Holy Spirit speaking into our lives: ‘Let it be done according to your word’.  Mary’s simple trust and total surrender served as the launching point for the entire gospel and sets the example for us as well.”

Same legacy, new traditions

Annunciation Heights is conveniently located two miles down the road from Camp St. Malo, the old archdiocesan youth camp founded by Monsignor Joseph Bosetti in 1916 and famously visited by St. John Paul II in 1993. The camp was ravaged by a fire in 2011, and while there were plans to rebuild the retreat center there, a 2013 mudslide foiled them.

However, the iconic Chapel on the Rock still stands and remains as beautiful as ever, and Annunciation Heights will be utilizing the space in its operations. Mills expressed how providential it was that Annunciation Heights is located so close to Camp St. Malo, “As we begin to develop a new summer youth camp in 2019, we do not need to reinvent the wheel, but can draw upon the legacy of two great men who walked here before us and laid for us a solid foundation on which to build.”

Monsignor Bosetti and St. John Paul II were both faithful and holy men who were committed to the youth of their day, were both avid outdoorsmen, and knew the enormous impact that bringing youth and families to God’s creation has.  Mills is hopeful that Annunciation Heights can carry on the legacy started by them and become a source of new traditions.

Annunciation Heights is a new youth and family camp in the Archdiocese of Denver just outside of Estes Park . (Photo by Jason Weinrich)

“Based on their legacy, we want Annunciation Heights to create new youth and family camping traditions for the Archdiocese of Denver,” Mills said.

Annunciation Heights is making it a point to build not only a dynamic summer youth camping program, but also family camps.  “As Catholic parents, my wife, Amberly, and I see how much good it does for us and our kids when we are given an opportunity to pray and play with other Catholic families.  Jesus himself often withdrew from the frenetic pace of his public ministry to the wilderness.  That’s what we hope Annunciation Heights will be – a place where youth and families can withdraw from the normal routine of things and go to the wilderness to be refreshed by the Lord with other like-minded friends and families.”

Annunciation Heights is opening its first two family camps this July and will follow next summer with new summer youth camps for boys and girls.

‘Authentic Christian hospitality’

Annunciation Heights has been in operation since mid-March, and has already hosted several groups.  In August, the camp is also beginning a missionary program for young adults to come for a year-long mission to lead and serve at the camp. The missionary program will be the “heart and soul” of what the camp is all about, Mills said.

The missionaries will receive a robust faith formation and will simultaneously serve guests in a tangible way. They’re currently seeking applicants for the AIM program.

“We’ll be given an opportunity to go deeper with these individuals,” Mills said. “They, in many ways, will be the frontline people our guests will encounter.”

“There is nothing more powerful than living and serving in a close Christian community,” he continued. “We want the culture of the camp to be anchored in prayer, to really demonstrate authentic Christian life and hospitality.”

To aid in this endeavor, the Archdiocese is sending a full-time priest, Father Salvador Sanchez, to live and serve as the camp’s chaplain.  “We are so blessed to have Father Salvador.  We will then be able to center the life of the camp around the daily Eucharist,” Mills said.

A camp with open arms

While Annunciation Heights is primarily a Catholic camp, other groups from different Christian churches and denominations will be “absolutely” welcome to use it, Mills said. In fact, its picturesque location just outside of Estes Park makes it an ideal spot for any sort of group to hold a retreat.

“I can’t help but hope we become a place where true ecumenism happens; we don’t sacrifice in any way our Catholic identity, but rather, clarify and proclaim it respectfully to those who come to the camp,” Mills said, a former Evangelical Protestant.

Annunciation Heights will also be the new location for the ever-popular JPII Outdoor Lab program.  Beginning it’s 11th year of operation, and under the dynamic leadership of its director, Julie Morrison,  JPII Outdoor Lab will continue to serve all the Catholic schools of the Archdiocese, and will even serve some public schools for their outdoor education classes.

Annunciation Heights will serve a variety of guests, hosting and providing programmed camps and retreats throughout the year. No matter who stays at the camp and experiences the beauty of the natural wonders that surround it, the mission remains the same.

“Youth and families are particularly hungry for a place to encounter Jesus, and hopefully in a way that is tangible,” Mills said.  “At the very heart of everything, we want to make Jesus known.”

Annunciation Heights

Book now: annunciationheights.org
Or call 970-586-5689

COMING UP: Swole.Catholic helps people strengthen body and soul

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St. Augustine once said, “Take care of your body as if you were going to live forever; and take care of your soul as if you were going to die tomorrow.”

Humans are both body and soul and both must be strengthened. This is the reason for the existence of Swole.Catholic, a group of people who dedicate themselves to nurturing their soul while strengthening their body, and through their ministry, motivate others to do the same.

According to Paul McDonald, founder of Swole.Catholic, they focus on encouraging faithful fitness. “We must take care of our temple of the Holy Spirit, because our bodies are one of God’s greatest gifts to us,” he said.

McDonald solidified the idea of faith and fitness when he was a sophomore in college. While “going through a huge moment in my life, at the same time I was really learning about the gym and learning ethical statements on my own. Both things clicked together,” he told the Denver Catholic. As a young guy, he started bible studies, and in those studies, he always had an analogy back to the gym.

He decided to make shirts for him and the guys in the bible study during his senior year. The shirts ended up becoming good conversation starters, and he decided he needed to do something with it — evangelize and motivate others to take care of their body and soul.

Thus Swole.Catholic was born. “Swole” is a slang term for bulking one’s muscles up from going to the gym, and of course, the Catholic part is self-explanatory — not only because of the Church but also for our faith and how it defines us in all we do. Swole.Catholic launched officially in Jan 2017.

The ministry consists of a website which provides resources to helps people with Catholic gyms, Catholic workouts, Catholic trainers, podcasts as well as workout wear.

The workout wear works as an evangelization tool. The word “Catholic” is printed on the front of the shirts and a bible verse is placed on the back.

“This raises questions or interest in others. It also works as a reminder of the purpose of the workout,” McDonald said. He added, “Most of the gyms we are going to have mirrors and all that, making you focus into yourself.” But the real purpose of the workout, as the members of Swole.Catholic say, is to strengthen your body and soul to live a healthy life.

Swole.Catholic also has rosary bands, a simple decade wrist band that people can wear while they workout and be flipped off at any time to pray a quick decade.

“Because everyone’s faith journey is different and everyone’s fitness journey is different, what we are trying to do is connect people with people [for them] to be able to have the correct support with their faith and fitness,” McDonald said.

That is why Swole.Catholic now has outposts around the country, with passionate Catholic members who love to help and inspire others in the fitness world while pursuing God in everything they do.

“Each one has its own flavor,” McDonald said. “In Florida we have a rosary run group where a bunch of girls meet up and pray rosary while they go for a run.” Among the outposts, there is also a group of guys in North Dakota who do a bible study and lift together. Similar to these two groups, members from other states have formed their own Catholic fitness groups and are now part of Swole.Catholic, including in Texas, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio and Wyoming and more.

“We encourage faithful fitness,” McDonald concluded. “We think your fitness fits in your faith as much as faith fits in your fitness. We are body and soul and we need to be building both.”

To join a group or a workout, visit swolecatholic.com or find them on Facebook.