Luke Hlavin is the Assistant Program Director at Annunciation Heights.
I raise my eyes toward the mountains. From whence shall come my help?
My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth. – Ps 121:1-2
It was nearing mid-morning on a beautiful Rocky Mountain day. The bus had returned empty to camp hours ago, having dropped off the last load of campers at the trailhead down the road from Annunciation Heights’ front gate. One could only hope that campers and staff were currently having the time of their life up on the mountains surrounding Estes Park.
Suddenly the call came over the radio, crackling but clear: “Trailblazer Group One has reached the summit of Twin Sisters Mountain!” There was a palpable joy emanating from the small handheld radio. Yet another group had summited, and they were currently walking in the footsteps of history, on top of the world.
Decades ago, on this same mountain, Msgr. Joseph Bosetti, the founder of Camp St. Malo and himself an intrepid mountaineer, would lead groups of campers on a sunrise hike to the summit. There he would say Mass for his crew of adventurers, introducing them to the glory of God while being bathed in the beauty of Creation. And for the staff of Annunciation Heights, as well as for the entire archdiocesan community, this summer was a resurrection of Msgr. Bosetti’s dream, begun those many years ago. Once again, campers and clergy were hiking that same mountain, and indeed celebrating Mass, in an effort to deepen and foster relationships with God and others.
This experience, along with so many others, characterizes the inaugural summer of adventure and friendship held at Annunciation Heights. Encouraged by the mission developed by Msgr. Bosetti, staff began each week with exuberant energy, welcoming and befriending all those who came to spend a week at the Heights. With the camp theme of “I Call You Friends,” based on Jesus’ declaration to his disciples in John 15, campers were invited to enter deeper into the reality of true friendship: with God, with themselves, with others, and with Creation. From late night campfire talks to team building games on the ropes course, camp provided an opportunity for genuine friendships to develop and grow. And with the celebration of the Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation being central to the daily schedule, relationships with God also blossomed in the hearts of many who opened their hearts in prayer.
These friendships were truly at the heart of the summer at Annunciation Heights, and by God’s grace, such spiritual fruits were carried back to the homes and families of the many campers who came from all over the country. Yes, summer camp was about having a great time, but additionally, it was about impacting families and the Church through lives transformed by a week in the mountains — by a special week with God. Msgr. Bosetti had this vision nearly a century ago, and today it is again being carried out in the mountains just east of Long’s Peak.
Next summer, Annunciation Heights has its sights set on even greater goals: higher mountains, more campers, greater adventure, and more growth in faith! It is with hearts full of gratitude and anticipation that the staff looks to next summer, excited to see what God has in store, ready to embark yet again on a journey into the mountains to receive all that God has to offer. For in the words of Msgr. Bosetti himself: “There is no such thing as too much mountaineering, just as there is no such thing as too much virtue!”
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.”