Monday, October 28, 2019 - Updated: 4:29 pm
Four priests are stepping out beyond their parish boundaries with a bold evangelical initiative to help young Catholics encounter God in nature, the sacraments and in one another.
Fathers Joe Freedy, Ken Marlovits, Nick Vaskov and Adam Potter have formed a nonprofit ministry with the goal to transform a former Girl Scout camp in Volant, Lawrence County, into Our Lady of Mount Carmel Adventure Camp and Retreat Center.
The 101-acre site along Neshannock Creek has a ranger’s house, three lodges, 14 tent platforms, two pavilions and a basketball court. Plans call for adding a chapel, Divine Mercy shrine, Marian grotto, outdoor Stations of the Cross and a hiking pilgrimage, along with ropes courses, zip lines, sand volleyball courts, climbing walls and a water slide.
The priests have launched a campaign to raise awareness and donations to help purchase the property.
“The camp will provide an opportunity to reconnect with your own heart, the heart of God who loves you, and hearts of friends,” Father Freedy said.
A national study found that 63 percent of Catholic youth say they have never experienced the love of Jesus. Five out of six young people confirmed today will no longer be practicing the faith within 10 years.
Conversely, research also shows that 89 percent of Catholics who remain active in the church after college identified a special spiritual event or experience that triggered their faith commitment.
“Young people need a safe and beautiful place that feels like home, encourages them to know and be themselves, and calls them to an adventure of a lifetime,” said Gary Roney, diocesan director of youth and young adult engagement. “That adventure is a friendship with Jesus Christ and a commitment to discipleship, evangelization and leadership.”
Emily Cunningham, director of Camp Lajas, a high-adventure Catholic camp that rented property at Moraine State Park the last two summers, hopes to be based at Our Lady of Mount Carmel next year.
“It will be a place to get away, have an encounter with the Lord and help us live out our call to holiness,” she said.
SS. John and Paul parishioner Lindsay Ries is thinking about the future of her three sons ages 6, 5 and 4.
“I want our boys to move from a relationship with God that is taught to them, to one that is deep and meaningful,” she said. “It’s no secret we’re facing a crisis of faith among our youth. This proposal gives me renewed hope.”
Other Catholic camps have experienced success. Camp Damascus in Centerburg, Ohio, near Columbus, hosts more than 4,000 young people every summer and now has a year-round program.
The four priests’ nonprofit organization is called Dry Bones Ministries. The name comes from Chapter 37 in the Book of Ezekiel that describes a vision in which God brings his people back to life.
The ministry has four pillars — the camp and retreat center, encouraging chastity outside of marriage, dignity in death and reclaiming the Sabbath, influenced by the writings of St. John Paul II.
“Parents and students have expressed frustration to me that their weekends are so busy,” Father Marlovits said. “The Lord invites us to have a day of rest, and we want to help families find effective ways to reclaim that.”
“This is a chance to flip the Catholic culture for youth in western Pennsylvania,” Father Freedy said.
To learn more, visit www.olmccamp.com.