Father Pablo Migone, diocesan vocations director, leads Vocatio Dei campers and counselors in a Eucharistic procession June 24. Photograph by Jessica L. Marsala.

Once campers themselves, vocation camp counselors still driven by 'play hard, pray hard' mentality

Originally Appeared in : 9814-7/5/18

COLLINS--When Father Drew Larkin reminisces about the two summers he spent at Vocatio Dei vocation camp in his youth, he certainly remembers the fun and the intensity with which he and his peers devoted themselves to games like manhunt, a version of tag played at night. 


He remembers that on ordination years — when vocation camps were held at Camp Villa Marie in Savannah — the boys camp culminated with a trip to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist to watch eligible seminarians be ordained to the priesthood. 


But his most meaningful memory is of seeing how the boys dedicated themselves to prayer and adoration with the same enthusiasm and intensity that they gave to their games. 


“The idea of playing your hardest — You’re sweating and you’re tired and you go and you quickly change and take a shower and then you go to adoration: There was something to that,” Father Larkin explained. “There was kind of a mind-body thing where I’m giving myself physically to this game and then spiritually giving myself in adoration. And I think it really worked.” 


Such a “play hard, pray hard” mentality, Father Larkin said, was the unofficial motto of the Vocatio Dei boys and Call to Holiness girls vocation camps then, and continues to underlie the camps now. 


Amy Almeter, 32, a former camper, counselor and camp director, suggested that the counselors also don’t spare any effort.


“We tend to leave exhausted because you give yourself the whole time,” Almeter, said, of how serving at vocation camp “draws us out of ourselves.” Almeter also said that her time as a camp counselor provided her with ample opportunities to refocus attention to her own faith and vocational discernment. “But you also leave with so many special experiences of seeing the girls go through transformations as they are going through camp or yourself — I’ve had God speak certain things to me at camp.” 


Father Larkin, who spent six summers serving at camp and recently retired from the position of “games master,” explained that he has tried to present himself to the campers with honesty and authenticity. 


He said he has tried to show them how he’s different from others they may have met: The “animating principle” behind his joy is not necessarily the games he’s supervising but rather his relationship with God, enhanced by the power of the Mass and adoration. 


“That’s what’s drawn me to be interested in your life and listening to you,” Father Larkin said, of building relationships with the campers for their own sake, rather than just to evangelize. “And I think people are struck by that…” 


Furthermore, he hopes that his witness, integrated into the way he plays camp games, jokes around in conversation or prays in the chapel, will break down the same kind of barriers he saw dissolved as a high school student, enabling his campers to better identify with his vocation and at least consider it as an option for their own lives. 


However, Father Larkin acknowledges that, as in his own life, such revelations about one’s vocation and the normalcy of priests and religious may only arise long after camp has ended.


“You start to realize ‘wait a minute this is what I’m called to do with my whole life, not just here at camp — give myself totally, in a physical way but also in a spiritual way,” Father Larkin said, of the insights he hopes campers eventually gain from his own experiences and from his example. “And what is the kind of life (whether marriage, religious life or priesthood) that God has for me to be able to do that well?”

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