Summer Camps

July 7, 2011

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly


Fr. Daly talks about “stealth” religious education in summer camps.


            Mostly I am a happy camper.

When summer comes to the parish these days, we rev-up the summer camps.

            Mostly it is the old formula of recreation camps to keep the kids busy during summer vacation. But more and more it is a new form of “stealth” religious education.

            This summer our parish will have five summer camps here and a couple away.

            On our parish grounds we have four recreation/sports camps; Basketball, Volleyball, Drama, and a little kid’s fun camp called, “Everything Under God’s Son.” These camps keep kids busy and give them some skills in sports or the arts. They are not overtly religious. But we do require prayer at the beginning and the end of the day and at meals. We teach them Christian values of courtesy and cooperation.

            But we also have two camps that I call “stealth” religious education. The work camps for teens and the “Vacation Bible School” for little ones are primarily about teaching faith.

The Vacation Bible School attracted about 100 little kids, ages 4 to 11. They spent the week learning about the Holy Trinity and the saints (especially Patrick and Brigid).

If you ask the kids, they thought it was a fun camp. It included skits and dances, crafts and even a “snack castle”. But behind it all was a substantive purpose. It taught them their prayers. It taught them basic doctrine on two points, our belief God as a trinity and what we mean by the communion of saints. The kids also learned to say the rosary. We had a closing mass, which was the first time in church for some of the children. All of this was sandwiched in between finger painting and dance routines.

The Catholic Heart Work Camps do a similar thing for teens. They are run by a ministry located in Orlando, Florida. This year our parish will host 260 teens. Similar camps will take place in more than 25 other locations around the U.S.

These teens will learn to put Christian love into action by doing community service projects. We have 55 community service projects lined up, mostly painting, cleaning and repair of elderly parishioner’s homes. The kids learn how to use a paint brush, hammer and broom. They learn to talk to people of different ages, races and conditions. They learn that at the heart of Catholicism is a heart of love for our neighbor made real in deeds of love.

But in the evening and the mornings we slip in stealth religious education. They have mass each day, confessions one night, Eucharistic adoration another night, witness talks and films about the faith. All of it done in the teen idiom of hip hop and high energy. It just wears me out thinking about it.

The old formulas for religious education: Catholic elementary school for most and CCD for some are gone ex-urban parishes like ours.

 Catholic schools are too expensive and too far away. Public schools no longer do “early release” for CCD. Teens don’t walk to school. They ride the school bus or drive. Early release for religious education won’t work. Also, many children come from divorced households. Custody arrangements mean that they miss a lot of weekend classes.

So we have to do religious education in a new way. That means summer camps. Between all the sack races, dance routines, and barbeques we sneak in a little religious education.   

They also get a T-shirt. Every camp seems to issue a t-shirt. By the end of the summer I have a whole collection of new t-shirts in XXL. That makes me a very happy camper.