Pope St. John Paul II famously insisted that “God made us for joy!” and repeatedly reminded young people, “Do not be afraid to be the saints of the New Millennium!”
His energy is the inspiration for Camp Lolek, a new experience for Catholic junior high school students in the Jefferson City diocese.
The four-day, three-night camp for incoming sixth- through eighth-graders is focused on faith, community and the joy of Christ.
It will be held at Osage Branch Retreat Center, south of Lebanon, Missouri.
The junior high boys’ session will be from Sunday to Wednesday, July 10-13.
The junior high girls’ session will be from Wednesday to Saturday, July 13-16.
“Lolek” was Pope St. John Paul II’s childhood nickname.
“Our goal for this is to promote joy-filled fun, solid faith community and friendships,” said Maureen Quinn, diocesan director of religious education and youth and young adult ministry.
Participants will gain valuable knowledge about what it means to be Catholic, through experiences rather than a classroom instruction.
“Those experiences will include swimming in the pool, jumping in the Gasconade River, playing games like Archery Dodgeball, and team-building activities,” said Mrs. Quinn.
Bible studies will take place among groups in their cabins and will focus on community sharing.
“We will share the faith through morning praise music and Morning Prayer and around a campfire at night,” Mrs. Quinn stated.
There will be lots of laughter and even a video-game experience.
“What we want the young people to take away from all of this is that faith can impact every element of their life and also be embedded in every element of their life,” Mrs. Quinn said.
“They don’t have to remove technology or laughter or fun from their faith life,” she noted. “They can be filled with faith and filled with joy.”
Satisfying a hunger
Camp Lolek’s organizers developed the concept after talking to parish youth ministers throughout the diocese.
“What we kept hearing was that youth ministry needs to start a younger age, with a strong invitation element,” Mrs. Quinn said.
This new camp experience fills a previously unmet need in the diocese: a chance for junior high students to have fun and build friendships in a distinctly Catholic environment.
“It will be a fantastic place where junior high students are challenged to grow in their faith,” said Renee Molner, director of youth ministry for St. Thomas More Newman Center and Sacred Heart parishes in Columbia. “While parents are the first educators in the faith, it’s difficult for parents to be able to provide the widespread community aspect that this camp will offer.”
She noted that secular culture is affecting people at younger and younger ages.
“Kids are being exposed to subjects that can be scary, confusing and disillusioning,” she said. “These junior high students need a place where they can learn about their Catholic faith and can see how they fit into the larger Catholic Church.”
People who attend Camp Lolek in junior high will be able to build on that experience in high school by attending Camp Maccabee for boys or Camp Siena for girls and by coming back as Camp Lolek volunteers.
Joe Powers, who teaches junior high religion at St. Joseph Cathedral School in Jefferson City during the school year and previously headed up the diocese’s Totus Tuus program over the summer, will be Camp Lolek’s director.
“I see on a daily basis the hardships faced by so many of young people, even at this age,” he stated. “I also see in them a tremendous desire to find truth, beauty and goodness in the world.”
He said that both as a teacher and camp director, his role is to help them recognize their call to sainthood, and to instill in them the confidence to answer that call.
“Every student has the potential to achieve great things and to be a saint!” he said.
Father Paul Clark, who is associate pastor of St. Thomas More Newman Center Parish in Columbia and one of the chaplains at Fr. Tolton Regional Catholic High School in Columbia, will be the camp’s spiritual director.
“There will be a presence of prayer and sacrament in the camp, right in the midst of our playing, swimming, dancing, messiness — because that’s the reality of our God,” said Fr. Clark.
“The hope is that Camp Lolek will help our junior high students experience the reality that our faith is not separate from the rest of our lives, but is integrated into who we are and everything we do ... including having fun!” he said.
No better time
Herself a mother of a junior high student and another child who is about to enter junior high, Mrs. Quinn recognizes that this is a crucial time to help children grow in faith.
“My kids are hungry for faith community,” she said, “so I’m really excited that I get to personally take part in planting those seeds and providing it to them.”
She said parents generally play a more direct role in their children’s lives at that age than they do in high school.
“They have more sway when it comes to encouraging their children to attend something like Camp Lolek,” she stated.
Furthermore, the age for receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation in this diocese has moved from high school to seventh grade.
“So they’re receiving the graces of the sacrament at a younger age,” said Mrs. Quinn. “We can never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit once they’ve been confirmed.”
She said parental involvement in a child’s faith is essential but generally isn’t enough.
“Studies show that every child needs at least five adults to share the faith with them,” she stated.
She pointed to a book called Sticky Faith by Dr. Kara E. Powell and Dr. Chap Clark, which expands on the five-adult ratio and the importance of intergenerational relationships in helping young people become lifelong disciples.
Camp Lolek can help lay the groundwork for that.
“We can help provide a strong, positive experience for these young people,” Mrs. Quinn noted, “but we also need to be equipping parents and parishes to help them stay engaged in their faith at home and at church.”
The young people who attend Camp Lolek won’t just make friends and have fun with people they’re own age, they’ll also interact with high school-age mentors.
Those high school students will have adult facilitators mentoring them throughout the camp.
“I could quote study after study about the importance of all of this,” said Mrs. Quinn, “but at the end of the day, this is how Jesus and His disciples did it, and we need to do it, too.”
The Osage Branch Retreat Center has river access, a pool, bunk houses, separate housing for the adults, a chapel, plenty of indoor and outdoor space, and a commodious kitchen.
Mr. Powers noted that parents are children’s most important spiritual role models. Parents who take the effort to sign their child up for Camp Lolek and get them to the campground demonstrate for them a sincere desire for their spiritual wellbeing.
While it is of foundational importance for parents to pray with their children and take them to Mass each Sunday, “presenting your child with opportunities like Camp Lolek gives them an opportunity to experience their faith in a uniquely illuminating way,” he said.
“They can encounter Christ in their fellow campers, the teenage and young adult leaders, in the priests and other religious present, and in so many other ways,” he added.
Mr. Powers said junior high is a time when young people are growing into who they will be for the rest of their lives.
“The goal of Camp Lolek is to ensure that they grow into joyful, intentional disciples of Jesus Christ,” he said.
Ms. Molner said junior high students are eager for activities with their friends.
“What better way to help them grow in community than joining other kids from across the diocese at this camp?” she said. “Pairing faith with typical summer activities creates a healthy, encouraging and carefree environment for kids to enjoy being kids.”
Bus transportation will be available to and from the Columbia-Jefferson City area and the camp venue.
The $150-per-child registration fee includes lodging, food and all of the camp’s activities.
Visit diojeffcity.org/camp-lolek to register for the camp or apply to be part of the camp staff.