It was dusk, as a Denver priest and two Cathedral High school students were finishing dinner and gazing at the darkening sky over their campground. Suddenly a whistling sound disturbed the serenity, the surrounding sky lit up and the three witnessed a meteor plummet to earth.
The year was 1917 and the priest was Msgr. Joseph J. Bosetti, of the Denver Archdiocese. The students were Charles Crowley and Delisle Lemieux (later to become Msgr. Lemieux). They had trekked to the mountains in search of a site for a boy's camp.
Since 1915, Msgr. Bosetti, as head of the Cathedral High School choir, had taken his choir and altar boys on summer camping trips.
July 15, 1920, William McPhee, lumberman and owner of a 160 acre homestead at the feet of Mt. Meeker, gave the land to Msgr. Bosetti. An article printed in the Catholic Register read, "Each year the lads will erect a cabin themselves on the grounds so that in time, there will be buildings for all."
Summer of 1921, St. William's Lodge was built in memory of William C. McPhee, son of William McPhee.
It was limited to about 40 people. When there were visitors or any extraordinary large number of people for any reason, the overflow had to sleep on the cold cement floor or on the tables. The boy's dormitory was over the kitchen which would later become the arts and crafts room. The showers and toilets occupied a room that was later used as a candy store, and there was a big fireplace in the middle of the lodge.
The summer camp years at St. Williams Lodge were crude at best. Rev. Nevans describes his camper days in those first years: "When I was a camper, we spent three days hiking and three days cutting wood for the stove in the lodge. Our day off was spent storing ice. It was a lousy vacation but I wouldn't have missed it for the world. There were no inside sinks in the old lodge. We washed the dishes outside with very inferior soap and by the time our four week stay was up, the grease was about four inches thick on the tin plates we ate from. Every morning Msgr. Bosetti would put his finger in the swimming pond and he would say it was 68 degrees. Well, I'm sure it wasn't more than 34 degrees, yet we never had a case of polio at camp. I think God sat Bosetti's shoulders all the time."
Camp in the early years ran like this: Mass was conducted in a little wooden barracks type structure in the woods opposite Msgr. Bosetti's cabin. A typical day started with Mass, then breakfast, clean up of bunk areas and then the entire camp would go on a hike. They would return for supper and an evening activity such as softball, horse shoes or bocci ball, an Italian game that Msgr. Bosetti brought from his native country. On hike days, Msgr. Bosetti took the camp up the challenging peaks. Little Matterhorn, Long's Peak, and Chiefs Head might all have been in a week's climbing for the boys. The choir and altar boys spent from four to six weeks at camp. During that time, they had showers maybe once a week. The water was heated in the incinerator behind the lodge. The camp went on in this way for more than a decade.
After William McPhee has finished the lodge for Msgr. Bosetti, he left for New Mexico to work in the lumber trade. He ran into financial trouble while there and the deed to St. William's Lodge become in jeopardy. Msgr. Bosetti appealed to the wealthy families of Denver and Oscar and Edith Malo came to his aid. The Malo's bought the camp in 1934 as a gift to the Archdiocese of Denver.
St. Williams Lodge became Camp Saint Malo in 1934.
In 1935, the Malo's donated funds for a chapel to be built on a rock and later that same year, the chapel was officially dedicated to Saint Catherine of Siena in memory of Mrs. Malo's mother, Catherine.
1936 bought about a new lodge building was completed. It too was funded by the Malo's and named Saint John's Hall in memory of John K. Mullen, Mrs. Malo's father.
With the addition of the new lodge the camp was able to extend its welcome to all boys. Altar boys and choir boys were still admitted for free, while other boys had to pay $7 to $10 a week. Msgr. Bosetti continued to camp in the same spirit that first marked it as a summer refuge for boys from Denver.
One tradition that began under Msgr. Bosetti was a midnight hike. One night a year in August, the entire camp would go to bed at 8:30 pm. The counselors and campers would wake up around midnight and start a hike up Twin Sisters. Some counselors were sent ahead of the hike party with materials for Mass and directions to set up an altar. In complete darkness, save for flashlights, the entire camp with Msgr. Bosetti in the lead, arrived at the summit in time for a dawn Mass. Msgr. Heister, then a counselor at Saint Malo, described on of the climbs: "It was very inspiring, but cols as a deuce when we got up there. We'd have a Mass, eat a breakfast and then we'd wake up the poor ranger at 4:30 in the morning. He would invite us in the ranger station up there and tell us how they detect fires from the station. Then, we would hike back to camp, have lunch, take naps and begin the normal activity schedule all over again."
In the summer of 1942, a group of about 100 campers, joined by members of the delegation of nuncios made the trek up Twin Sisters. Four separate Masses were said at the top.
In 1953, after more than 35 years as camp director, Msgr. Bosetti had a stroke at the age of 67. Msgr. Heister took over the running of the camp and directed it along the lines that Msgr. Bosetti had established. "The camp had a great tradition," Msgr. Heister said. "We bragged about being the best hiking camp in the area and I'm sure we were." A year later, Msgr. Bosetti suffered a second stroke and passed away.
Under Msgr. Heister, a former Wing Chaplain, of the Fighter Interceptor Wing, at Buckly Air Field in Denver, the camp was gradually modernized and a program of activities with more variety was established. He was able to add a rifle range, broadened the arts and crafts program and built a new horse barn and wrangler cabin. He also winterized the lodge and built a small cabin behind the Main Lodge.
To help finance the winterization project and other improvements for the camp, Msgr. Heister held several fund raising events.
In 1956, a group called the Strolling Minstrels performed at a picnic along the South St. Vrain Canyon Road.
In 1957, singing star Dennis Day and night club comedians, The Doran Brothers, performed at a nearby country club to raise money for the camp.
In 1962, both the men's and boy's choir from the Cathedral in Denver, made an album, along with Dennis Day, entitled, "Camp St. Malo Sings."
Under Msgr. Heister, a winter program was started. Groups were now allowed to rent out the camp facilities for their own functions. The "off season' had become a kind of "on season' with numerous Diocesean retreat programs involving high school and college age students. A cabin for the cook was also built and served as a guest house and assistant director's cabin. Msgr. Heister continued the midnight hikes up Twin Sisters for the first few years but bad weather halted the tradition for several years, and it later became optional and eventually faded out completely.
In 1969, Msgr. Heister retired as director of the camp and Rev. John Anderson became Camp Saint Malo's director for the next two years.
In November of 1970, Fr. Robert Jerrard, a former counselor and hike master under Msgr. Heister, became the camps director.
Under Fr. Jerrard's direction, upgrading of existing facilities continued and new projects were started. A new water and sewage system was added and a new building for the hike program was built. Astronomy, nature studies, orienteering, and a ropes/obstacle course was added to the daily activities schedule. The existing arts and crafts program evolved into four different programs; candle shop, creative crafts, nature crafts, and leather shop. Each new craft program would also gain it's own space in St. William's Lodge which had come to be known as the "Old Lodge.'
In 1973, under Fr. Bob's leadership, the all boy camp opened to welcoming girls. Female campers became a part of the camping program and by 1981a coed staff reached a 50/50 ratio bringing balance in both program staff and administrative positions.
In 1984, Camp Saint Malo was closed for a major $ 5 million renovation and improvements.
In 1993, Pope John Paul II stayed at Camp Saint Malo during World Youth Day visit to Denver. Pope John Paul II went for a hike and sat on a rock to read and pray in the Rocky Mountains.
Adapted form an article by Blonder, Larry; A History of Camp Saint Malo, undated