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Q&A: Celebrating the past 101 years of Camp St. Malo — and looking ahead to the future

There’s something inherently human about retreating from our normal routines in life and seeking respite and restoration in the splendor of God’s creation, and for the past 101 years, Camp St. Malo has been a go-to destination for this.

The camp’s storied history will be honored Sept. 11 during a special 101st anniversary celebration. The evening will not only acknowledge the countless ways in which the camp has had an impact on the many, many souls that have found restoration there over the past 101 years, but it will also serve as an opportunity to look forward to the future of the camp and what the next 100 years will hold. While the celebration is free to attend, space is limited, and those who feel inclined are welcome make a suggested donation of $50 for the evening. Click here to RSVP!

In anticipation of this momentous occasion, both for Camp St. Malo and the Catholic Church in northern Colorado, the camp’s CEO and Executive Director Kyle Mills sat down with the Denver Catholic to discuss the camp’s storied past, rich present and exciting future.

Denver Catholic: This year, on September 11, you are celebrating the 101st anniversary celebration of the ministry at Camp St. Malo.  Please tell us a little bit more about this anniversary.  What do you hope to celebrate? 

Kyle Mills: The first thing to say is that it’s a big birthday party – that you are invited to! It’s not often the case in our nation’s short history that you have a 101-year anniversary. So we wanted to thank God for the “life” of Camp St. Malo and its ministry over that past century. There is much to be thankful for on this beautiful 150 plus acres located adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park in Allenspark, Colorado – many, many people have encountered the Lord in a variety of different ways.

The property was first given to the Archdiocese of Denver by a man named William McPhee in 1920. McPhee was a parishioner at the newly built Cathedral in Denver. He donated the land and the funds to build St. Williams lodge which was completed exactly 100 years ago, in 1921. That same year the first official boys camp opened for a dollar a week. Kids would come up from the front range and they would enjoy a week of camping on the property. In 1973 a girls camp was opened. So for over 70 years summer camps were operating and many conversions and vocations came through encountering God on this mountain. Those decades were filled with people who grew wonderful memories, friendships, participated in activities that they would not normally get to take part in, and achieve great accomplishments like climbing surrounding mountains and descending nearby glaciers. Most of all they encountered Christ through daily sacraments and evening benediction. Even now, it is often the case that we speak to people who went to camp here and it is clear they experienced great joy that left a palpable mark on their lives.

We also want to celebrate the years when the adult retreat center was running prior to the 2011 fire. There were thousands of retreat groups that came in those years, including myself. It was always an experience of beauty and goodness and encountering God. So the anniversary is a chance to celebrate the camp, the retreat center, not to mention the many couples who have been married at St. Catherine’s Chapel, otherwise known as the Chapel on the Rock and the thousands of pilgrims and visitors who come to see and pray in the chapel.

We want to people to know they are invited to this event on September 11, but they will need to RSVP on our website right away!

DC: What is it about Camp St. Malo that you think draws so many visitors, both locally and from around the nation and even world?

KM: There’s a variety of reasons why we draw so many visitors. Sometimes people just happen to drive by during the course of their vacation to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. People are struck by the beauty of the stone chapel with Mt. Meeker in the back drop and they stop in to see what this place is.

Others come because they know of the property and have visited it for many years and for them, it’s a place of peace and sacredness and a place of quiet rest and beauty where they can encounter the Lord again.

We also see that people are coming from around the world, especially Polish people, because they knew that St. John Paul II was there in 1993. We get a good number of Polish people who have such a devotion to St. John Paul II in his life in ministry that they want to go to the places where he was. I think it’s a combination of those things, but in general, it’s beauty, a sense of the sacred, and the historical aspects of what has happened there in the last 101 years.

DC: St. John Paul II’s visit to the camp in 1993 was historic. How is his spirit still present at the camp today?

KM: St. John Paul II had a great, great love for the youth and—simultaneous to that—a profound love for creation and especially the mountains. He knew firsthand that one could encounter Christ in creation. That was a big part of the dynamic of his ministry, even before he became pope, where he, as a young priest and bishop, would take many people out into the mountains or onto rivers to have time of fellowship and recreation in the beauty of the Lord’s creation. That dynamic still exists at Camp St. Malo and people know he prayed and enjoyed the property in August of 1993. They want to see the walking stick he used and pray where he prayed.

The other aspect of St. John Paul II’s legacy that is still alive at Camp St. Malo is his desire to be a good steward of creation. We can do more than just enjoy God’s creation, we must also protect it and especially revere creation as the handiwork of God. His reflections on the creation accounts of Genesis 1-2 and his beautiful work on the Theology of the Body all speak to the goodness of God’s creation and man’s role in it.

DC: Much has happened over 101 years on this property and within this ministry. How would you summarize the last hundred years and what are the common themes? 

KM: The common themes are the same no matter how people have enjoyed Camp St. Malo over 101 years – whether as a youth camper, an adult retreatant, or a casual visitor. Getting away from your normal routine of life and coming to a place that is wild and beautiful and having an encounter with God. Because of its location — it’s not in the city, it’s not in Denver, it’s not even in Estes Park — it’s set apart. And because of the natural hunger of the human heart for the sacred, people have encountered it—encountered him—here. To experience the beauty and stillness of this place is one important way to realize that God exists and that not only does he exist, but the evidence of that existence is written in creation itself. Despite the variety of different kinds of ministries that have happened over 101 years, I think that would be one of the most important themes. The Psalms summarize this sentiment more succinctly, “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows forth his handiwork” (Psalm 19).

DC: What do you hope the next 100 years for Camp St. Malo holds in store?

KM: We who work in the ministry of Camp St. Malo want to be the Church that reaches ad gentes, to the nations, and not just to Catholics, but to anybody, even the people who are adamantly not Catholic or atheistic or Protestant or of a different faith altogether. We want people to come and encounter the goodness and beauty and hopefully the truth of what the Catholic Church teaches, not in a proselytizing way, but just through an encounter with our staff or a visit to the chapel or a young couple who decides to get married in the chapel. It’s not a Catholic thing, it’s a human thing for the soul to seek a transcendent place of peace and beauty. It’s a part of our humanity to desire a sense of the sacred. This is already a part of the ministry of Camp St. Malo and has been over the last 101 years, and I don’t think that will change. We’re looking at new and exciting ways to facilitate this, but ultimately, I think that the vision for the next 100 years is to just be a place where the Church goes out beyond the parish walls and provides a way to share a some common love for the creative world with any and all of our visitors. Those are the ways that I think Camp St. Malo and and its ministry will continue going into the next century.

To RSVP for the Camp St. Malo 101st anniversary celebration, click here.


Featured photo by Andrew Wright

Aaron Lambert
Aaron is the Managing Editor for the Denver Catholic.
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