Nestled on the shores of the crystal waters of Lake Elgin, near Montreal, is a beloved Claretian sponsored camp for children and teens. Camp Claret serves as a life-changing experience for some 50,000 youth and thousands of counselors who have attended the camp since its founding in 1964 by Claretian Fr. Carmel Lerma.
Summer camp experience can be many different things to those involved. Camp Claret is dedicated to making a profound difference in the lives of the kids who attend and the counselors who lead. The mission of Camp Claret sets it apart for its characteristic Claretian focus on serving the needs of young people at every level: spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and physical. That service is built on a commitment to giving rise to future leaders and inspiring youth through the joy of a faith-inspired, team-oriented experience in nature.
The Claretian behind Camp Claret
Fr. Carmel, who passed away in 2020, knew that through the work of Camp Claret, he had the opportunity to inspire young people by building their self-confidence, ambition, and desire to give back, all with an inner strength they may not have known possible. His work was never “his,” but in true Claretian style, Fr. Carmel considered his collaboration with more than 70 dedicated peers to be the key to the camp’s success. The collaborative spirit among those running Camp Claret also signals to campers how they too will become part of a highly functioning community.
This spirit was instilled in Fr. Carmel from his beginnings as a Claretian Missionary in Spain, France, and Quebec. He said that the secret to his success at Camp Claret was that the organization did not rest on his shoulders alone, it relied on a huge network that he called “the extended Camp Family.” Knowing how to surround himself with the strengths of others was one of his gifts, and he insisted that he could never have accomplished the extraordinary work of the camp without the help of everyone he considered his friends.
A Journey in Self-Discovery
The Old Bell Tower at the camp welcomes campers from all around the world every summer. Camp Claret brings kids together from many different backgrounds, putting them at a remove from the limitations of their routines.
In this setting, they begin to experience anew the fruits of being part of a team, taking time to let their minds wander in nature and share in giving as well as receiving in community.
Helping children disengage from their usual routines requires putting aside mobile phones and computers. This alone is a tremendous leap for young people and their parents. Once released from technology, all kinds of discovery can take place: conversation with others, communing with nature, experiencing solitude, and participating in physical activity. Campers are encouraged to experience themselves in a new way.
Youth as “Bearers of Hope”
The sentiments of former campers are inspiring, and show the tidings of hope they carry into the world:
“Fr. Carmel believed in me and inspired me to challenge myself. Camp gave me the courage to stretch my limits and the certainty that I could make a difference in the world around me.”
“Fr. Carmel taught us to trust each other!”
“We were taught to think about safety at all times, to anticipate what could happen and identify the risks of accidents.”
“What we learned about ourselves, the values we experienced, the skills we developed, what we became as a person all influenced our career choices and made a difference around us.”
The action of the camp experience is at the center of the mission. In other words, campers don’t just hear about teamwork; they’re fully engaged in team activity. Values and faith aren’t at a distance; they are fully applied, with generosity and courage. Challenges aren’t set to be feared; they are to be taken on one by one with encouragement to succeed. Then, in achievement of goals, campers are taught to rejoice in the success of others while celebrating any personal victory.
When Fr. Carmel passed away in 2020 just as the pandemic hit, his legacy came into ever-clearer focus. Even if the camp would not experience its fullness during this time of social distancing, the spirit of Camp Claret and its future remain strong. Camp leaders are forging ahead with this challenge the same way they encourage the kids to meet their challenges at camp and in life: with clarity of what is possible, with hope and faith to make that happen, and with Fr. Carmel’s legacy of optimism and joy for the great things that are to come.