A Brief History of Camp Sancta Maria

The year 1931 was marked with tremendous challenges. The United States was entering its second year of the Great Depression – A loaf of bread was 8 cents, automotive manufacturing screeched to a halt, unemployment skyrocketed to a staggering 8 million people without work, and the mob was still enjoying the height of its power. Yet, not all were without hope.

Msgr. Maurice Chawke, of St. Mary’s Parish in Royal Oak, knew that the boys of that generation needed a place to foster fraternity without the rough nature of urban life. As a way to reward boys for scholastic success, Msgr. began to bring the Boy Scouts and high school students to an old farm lot near Gaylord, Michigan where the first 28 boys camped out in tents with a Mr. Thomas Bean.

It was on that old farm lot that the roots of Camp Sancta Maria (CSM) started to develop. 1933 marked the first year of operation for the Camp in its current perspective. Rather than being viewed as a place to reward good behavior and effort during the scholastic year, Camp Sancta Maria was opened to all boys as a place of recreation and vacation in the summer with Msgr. as chaplain and Mr. Bean as director.

While we still primarily operate as an all-boys camp – we are very pleased to offer a one-week-long girls horse camp and two one-week camps for girls at the beginning and end of the summer! 

All camps remain single-gender – i.e. campers of the opposite gender are not present at CSM during the campers’ stay. 

The Mission of Camp Sancta Maria

Since those summer days of 1933 till now – The more things change, the more they stay the same! We are honored to make it our mission to have a role in the process of forming young Christian lives by offering campers between the ages of 8 to 16 a summer of wholesome recreation in a religious atmosphere full of fun, personal growth, and spiritual development.

With the ever-increasing prominence of technology in our day, our mission now includes a technology-free zone. Whether it is playing sports, horseback riding, learning to swim, or going on one of our outside camping trips, our campers feel refreshed and experience a sense of wonder as they live more fully in nature – a very different experience from their daily routine!

Our 96 acres of wooded landscape in the heart of Northern Lower Michigan and the stunningly beautiful local sites that serve as our destinations for outside trips are the perfect settings for this work and for the close-knit community at CSM. Infused into all of our activities is an atmosphere of faith.

One of the great aids to personal growth is prayer and the sacraments.  Through the decades CSM has relied on daily Mass, opportunities for Reconciliation, Eucharistic Adoration, the Angelus, grace before and after each meal, and our Night Chapel service.

It is not unusual for campers to have a relationship with God become real or become revived at CSM.  Why?  Much of it comes down to the fact that kids open their hearts while they are both away from home and in the unique atmosphere of CSM – and the Holy Spirit is then allowed to get through to them.

To accomplish this growth, the traditional two-week session is critical for boys.  Over the years, we have come to see that it takes 3 days for a boy to become settled and for his heart to open.  In the remaining week, their personal sense of accomplishment and their relationship with God notably take off!

How rewarding it is both to see campers come to love this life and to see moms cry when they hear their boys sing in Church! Although we are proudly a Catholic Camp, we work hard to ensure that campers of all denominations and faiths feel welcome at CSM.