Camp Maria Retreat Center, a ministry of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, is celebrating 85 years since its founding on June 21, 1937. For decades, Camp Maria has provided community members, Sisters and Associates alike a place to reflect, renew and commit to their spiritual calling.
This 10-acre site situated on Southern Maryland’s Breton Bay provides a beautiful and peaceful getaway from an often hectic and fast-paced world. The camp hosts many diverse groups of all ages with meeting rooms, lodging, a spiritual center, pier, swimming pool, and more. Youth and student groups, Catholic and non-catholic church groups, and family groups are just a few of the visitors who take full advantage of Camp Maria’s amenities. Some retreats target those with particular needs or unique situations, such as underprivileged kids who would not otherwise be able to attend a camp or children whose siblings are battling cancer.
“There’s a lot of smaller retreats and family retreats. There are families that come in from the DC area that bring 70 or 80 people. Lots of generations and very religious-focused events that these people do,” said Mark Taylor, the new Chairman of the Board of Directors for Camp Maria.
Taylor was in town on June 21 visiting with Sister Barbara Flores and Sister Camille Panich of the Western Province Leadership Team, along with Associate Nora Ballard, a Board member. Taylor lives just down the way from the camp and said the location has been a part of his life for many years. As a student, he participated in retreats and later became actively involved in its operation as a Board member, Vice-Chair, and most recently as Chair. Taylor’s children have also attended events at the retreat center.
“It’s just so beautiful there,” he said of what makes Camp Maria stand out as a retreat center, along with its hospitality. Ballard added that Camp Maria is much like Nazareth – a sacred space but one you must visit in person to really feel and understand.
“On a beautiful day, when you’re outside like that, and you hear and see nature, it’s just so nice,” Taylor said. “It’s very tranquil.”
This tranquility and unique atmosphere of Camp Maria Retreat Center leave a lasting impression on those who visit. Just ask Mary Elizabeth Miller, SCN, a former president of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, whose time at the camp played a role in her entering religious life.
Sister Mary Elizabeth said her parents decided to send her to the camp for two weeks one summer when she was 11 after seeing it advertised in the local newspaper. Initially, she had no desire to attend, but sitting around a campfire with the sound of crickets and frogs and the dancing lights of fireflies shifted her feelings. She said a sense of peace and serenity washed over her.
“I enjoyed camp life so much that after one week I wrote home and asked if I could stay one more week, which happened to be the last week of the camping season that year,” she said. “I later returned to Camp Maria for two more summers and stayed the entire eight weeks. This is how I met the SCNs, because I lived in Wilmington, Delaware and there were no SCNs there. Because of the Sisters I met at camp, I eventually came to Nazareth College and after two years of college I entered the SCN community.”
While the daily operations of the retreat center have shifted more into the hands of lay administration over the years, the connection Sister Mary Elizabeth found at Camp Maria is something many Sisters of Charity of Nazareth and others have found during their time there as well. Camp Maria is a place dear to their hearts and many Sisters still volunteer at the camp or attend retreats themselves.
Camp Maria Retreat Center strives to provide an atmosphere of prayer, hospitality and simplicity in a peaceful, natural environment for retreats and various renewal programs, according to the center’s mission statement. The facilities are available to those who seek to strengthen and deepen their commitment to God, the Church, and to God’s people. The vision is to preserve a peaceful place where these groups and individuals can live simply in the serenity of God’s creation: a place for people to enjoy the beauty, experience the peace, build relationships and pray together in a natural setting.
Taylor said they have started to provide more events this year with content such as a Lenten series or music and the arts, rather than just offering the use of the facilities. One idea they are exploring is eco-spirituality retreats for adults that will better incorporate nature. Something similar is being offered as a new kids’ day camp this summer – Camp Creation – which helps campers learn how to make a positive impact on the environment while exploring and engaging with the Camp Maria grounds.
Sister Barbara, Provincial of the Western Province, said introducing new opportunities is part of the ministry’s ongoing vision.
“As we continue with the programming, the hope is that we will reenvision and we are looking anew and see how we expand and move more in the direction of eco-spirituality,” she said. “That kind of visioning is in process.”
Offering events year-round is another task on which the Board and administrators are working. Taylor and Ballard said winter events, such as the Lenten series, will help fill in the gaps left by ongoing COVID-19 impacts and help generate revenue and support for Camp Maria to keep it going.
“By making sure we are doing that part of it [sustaining the camp], we can have a bigger impact on more people’s lives, and that is the goal,” he said.