This Is Not Summer Camp

High school students experience college life through summer immersion programs

Choosing a college or university with your child can be one of the most difficult decisions families face. But there’s help. Catholic colleges offer summer programs to help high-school students understand what will be expected of them in college.

“This is not summer school,” said Patrick Owens of Wyoming Catholic College about the program Conventiculum Viomingense, which teaches students Latin. “It’s summer camp infused with joy, sports, Frisbees, learning, hiking, climbing up a waterfall, and saying the Rosary.”

Several Catholic colleges offer opportunities for high-school students to attend programs on campus and become acquainted with college life.

For some, like Christendom College in Virginia, this summer will mark the 16th year of their most popular program. Summer programs have already helped countless high-school students make one of the most important decisions in their lives by immersing them in a college’s culture. Christendom alone boasts over 1,500 alumni of their summer program since 1999.

Mary Terlisner, 17, said she thought the two-week program her parents signed her up for at the Peak experience at Wyoming Catholic College would be boring. “My mom kind of forced it on me,” she admitted. “I was really reluctant.”

She thought she knew what to expect. But she did not expect to have one of the most profound, moving, faith-filled experiences of her life. “It blew my mind,” she said.

She added that she loved everything, from the beautiful celebrations of Mass, the level of discussion in classes, to the backpacking trips in nature. “I think I expected it to be more like high school,” she said. “But it turned out to be so much more than I expected.”


The Great Books

Students can step onto campus and into the great books of Western civilization in the summer program at Thomas Aquinas College in California. The program is essentially a guided tour into what some of the world’s greatest minds have to say about all the major areas of learning, including mathematics, science, literature, philosophy, and theology.

Students will read and analyze the texts themselves, not textbooks, under the light of the Faith.

During the first week of the program, discussions focus on questions concerning religious, moral, and political authority raised by Sophocles in Oedipus Rex and Antigone, and by Plato in the Crito. Students will discuss the topic of free will in light of Genesis. Students will also read Kierkegaard, Pascal, and St. Thomas Aquinas. They’ll discuss Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Euclid’s Elements, and Boethius’ classic work, the Consolation of Philosophy.

But it’s not all academics. Daily sports, movies, and hiking in the hills surrounding the beautiful campus are also part of the program, as well as trips to the Getty Museum, concerts in Los Angeles, and beach volleyball. Mass is offered daily, and a chaplain is available on campus at all times.

Sami Nunes attended last year’s program as a high-schooler at Thomas Aquinas and called it “utterly amazing.”

“Honestly, there are no words, really, I can find to describe my experience there,” she wrote of her experience. “Living there like a student with classes, rec time, study in the library, meals, etc., made it seem like the 136 of us kids were a part of a big family.”


Outdoors and academics

Wyoming Catholic College offers three summer programs for high-school students. The first of these—PEAK 2014—is a two-week camp for young college-bound Catholics seeking an introduction to traditional liberal education. Students will pursue wisdom in the three distinct aspects of the WCC mission: study, nature, and prayer.

Students spend each morning in college-level classes, learning and discussing philosophy, theology, Latin, and literature. Afternoons and evenings at WCC include enjoying the Wind River Mountain Range, hiking in Sinks Canyon, fly-fishing, horseback riding, swimming in Alpine Lake, and a two-night camping trip.

Students will also have the chance to experience daily Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, and the Liturgy of the Hours.

PEAK Ascent, which will be offered for the first time this year, is a more outdoor-oriented, slightly shorter version of the popular two-week course.

Thomas Raab attended the PEAK summer program at Wyoming Catholic College in 2012. “When I got there, I was surprised at how vibrantly Catholic the culture was,” he said. “I fell in love with it. Everything about it.”

He said that for him there were many firsts, including rock climbing, horseback riding, and backpacking for a weekend. “They crammed everything about the college in a two-week curriculum, as well as a spiritual life and outdoor life. What I loved about the professors was that they were all very well rounded individuals. Each of them was so passionate, with a clear affection for the subject.”

By the end of the summer program he wrote on a survey form: “I’m so coming to this college.” He’s kept in touch with many of the people he attended the program with, and when he attends WCC he plans to reunite with them. “It’s nice not to show up as a complete stranger,” he said.

The third program offered by WCC is Conventiculum Viomingense (mentioned above)—a full-immersion Latin program “designed both to introduce aspiring Latinists to the beauty and power of the ancient language of the Church and to provide more advanced Latinists with an exciting opportunity to improve their abilities.

Owens promises students they will be speaking Latin with some fluency at the end of ten days. “Most of the participants are pretty incredulous that we’re going to be able to do what we say we’re going to do. Most students come in believing that Latin is a dead language,” he said. “Our challenge is to overcome that misconception.”

One of the ways in which he does this is keeping it fun. “Fun is always a memorable experience,” he said. “One of our aims is to show them a great time.”

“I was definitely most surprised by the variety of people who attended and the close friendships we forged through various activities, despite the diversity of our motivations for attending the camp,” said student Carolyn Manion. “Some students had almost no Latin experience, while others like me had studied the language for many years. High school and beyond, Catholic and non-Catholic, we shared some great moments outside the classroom in both Latin and English.”

She added, “It’s a fact, Latin brings people together!”


Experience Christendom summer program

Christendom College is now accepting applicants to register for its popular Experience Christendom summer program for students who will be entering their senior year of high school next fall.

Four sessions of the one-week program will be held from June 15–July 19, 2014. All sessions are expected to fill quickly, attracting about 45 students to each session. Director of Admissions Tom McFadden said, “I have no doubt this year’s sessions will fill up quickly—there simply is just no other program out there like it.”

Students come from all across the country to learn if a true liberal arts education in a Catholic atmosphere is right for them. The cost to attend a session is $500.

While some of the participants come to Christendom’s summer program hesitant about spending a week there, McFadden said, “The vast majority of them—99 percent—end up being blown away by what they experienced during the program.”

A.J. Ohlhaut attended the summer program last year. “My expectations were met and surpassed,” he said. “I enjoyed the classes, and the professors were great.”

Students spend their mornings taking a variety of liberal arts classes—philosophy, English, history, and theology—then, after Mass and lunch, they spend their afternoons and evenings canoeing on the Shenandoah River, hiking and cooking out on Skyline Drive, making s’mores over a bonfire, bowling, participating in a talent show, eating a steak dinner at the admissions director’s house, and attending an Irish barn dance at college president Dr. Timothy O’Donnell’s house.

“There’s something for everybody there,” said Ohlaut. “My advice is to throw yourself into the activities. It was the best time of my life.”

McFadden said that it shows the students that they “can still have good, old-fashioned fun in a safe, moral, Catholic environment.”

Ohlaut said that he believes the friends he made last summer will continue to be his friends for years to come. “I was prepared for a pretty good time, but what I actually experienced shattered all my expectations and I had an unbelievably good time that went straight through the roof in fun, excitement, and most importantly, the Catholic Faith,” he said. “The week was a true life-changer for me.”

Christendom College will also hold its second annual St. Columcille Institute program in Ireland featuring classes in Catholic theology, history, and literature. Held from July 20 to August 11, 2014, the Institute challenges young Catholic leaders to be effective agents in the New Evangelization.

“After the success of last year’s program, we are even more excited,” President O’Donnell said. “Students really found the Institute to be a life-changing experience for them. Not only did they grow in their understanding of the Faith, but they grew closer to the Person at the center of the Faith—Jesus Christ.”

By bringing young people together from across United States and Ireland, the Institute creates a fruitful dialogue and an exchange of ideas and experiences.

“Through the intellectual, spiritual, and cultural experiences, students rediscover a love of their Catholic heritage and are energized to be a part of the revival of Christian faith and culture,” O’Donnell, who will teach the theology course during the program, says. “And given the historical significance of Ireland and its role in spreading the gospel and saving Western civilization, our location is an ideal spot for this program.”

The three-week program takes place at the Ards Friary in County Donegal, which has over 200 acres of lovely countryside and a commanding view of the ocean, bay, and surrounding beaches. “The beauty of the grounds at Ards is breathtaking,” said Mark Turner, a student at Christendom. “I didn’t expect how beautiful Ireland would be and how great the service and location of Ars Friary was for our accommodations.”

This year will also feature a series of workshops on “The Art of Communication in the New Evangelization,” led by Sean Lovett, the director of English Programing for Vatican Radio.

Native Irishman and college chaplain Father Mark Byrne, SOLT, will assist in the spiritual formation that will be part of the daily routine for the students who participate in the Institute. Daily Mass and communal recitation of the Rosary and the Divine Office will provide the hinge for each day’s routine, and in addition, the sacrament of confession and Eucharistic Adoration will be readily available.

The trip also includes excursions to historic sites during and after the program, including Croagh Patrick, the National Marian Shrine at Knock, and Dublin.

“I had some of the best bonding moments with other students while relaxing and exploring or even studying with the other students participating in the program,” said Turner. “The professors were so available and eager to talk and learn about you that the time outside of class was just as much fun as the time spent learning in class.”


A trio of programs at University of Dallas

Vincent Athas had what he called “a little interest in Shakespeare” when he decided to attend the Shakespeare in Italy program held by the University of Dallas on its campus on the outskirts of Rome.

Each summer, University of Dallas professors lead students through the most compelling works of William Shakespeare amid his most enchanting and breathtaking Italian settings.

“Students get a sense that this is what college is like,” said Dr. Greg Roper, chair and associate professor of English at UD. “We tease them with that experience because the University of Dallas is a different place.”

Most students at UD spend a semester in Rome by the end of their sophomore year; UD’s Rome program is considered a cornerstone of its core curriculum.

Dr. Roper said that at the end of last year’s Shakespeare in Italy session, a student shook one of the professor’s hands and thanked him for ruining his senior year in high school because he couldn’t wait to graduate and attend the University of Dallas.

Dr. Moran said students earn three hours of college credit by taking the course. “And we’re serious that they’re going to earn it,” he said, pointing to intense seminars and writing tutorials.

“But that’s combined with fun,” he continued. “Most of the students see serious academic work as drudge work, but in this program, if you’re not having fun, there’s something wrong.”

Athas, now a junior at UD, said he loved studying the layers upon layers of meaning in Shakespeare’s works, but he also made lifelong friends. “I’m rooming with two of the friends I made in that program right now,” he said. “Some of my best friends I first met that summer.”

The Latin in Rome program, also held on the Rome campus, brings students to the origins of the language with visits to archeological and historical sites in Rome and Naples combined with relevant Latin studies.

Latin in Rome is based upon classical and classic texts from the university’s core curriculum. Participants study passages from Cicero, Pliny, Vergil, and Horace relevant to their travels in Rome. Students also read selected passages in translation from these and other authors to enhance visits to sites in Rome and Naples.

The University of Dallas also offers the Arete program, a college preparatory program that allows high-school students to study great works of literature, on its Irving campus just outside of Dallas. The word arete means “excellence,” the standard the ancient Greeks set for themselves both in life and in the life of the mind. This two-week program introduces students to the essential texts of Western civilization and allows them to reflect on works of fine art, film, and music, including visits to celebrated art museums and Dallas’ Shakespeare in the Park.

“At 16, most kids my age would despise the thought of going to a college-prep camp for two weeks in the middle of summer,” said Amy Yznaga of her experience. “Well, I’m not like most kids, and I had the best two weeks of my summer at the University of Dallas Arete college preparatory summer program.”


No Hard Sell

Some of the universities have noticed that many of the students who participate end up choosing that college. But that’s not the point, they say. “We’re not a recruiting program,” said Moran. “There is no hard sell.”

He said that if some students like what they do or they appreciate the Catholic environment, he’s thrilled. “But that’s not the point.”

Terlisner was expecting to attend a different Catholic university than Wyoming. But while attending the summer program, she changed her mind—but she suspected she’d change her mind again when she went home.

No one tried to convince her, but Terlisner was confused about her choice of college. “So I asked God what he wanted me to do,” she said. “It was a matter of giving up of my will and saying ‘It’s in your hands.’”


2014 college immersion programs across the country


Ave Maria

5050 Ave Maria Blvd.

Ave Maria, FL 34142

(877) 283-8648


Benedictine College

1020 N. 2nd Street

Atchison, KS 66002

(913) 360-7655


Benedictine College Youth Conference

June 6–8

Passionate speakers, including Father Stan Fortuna, CFR, will inspire, ignite, and refresh your conviction for Christ and his Church. Join other teens who are passionate about growing and sharing their faith with others as you engage in a weekend of faith, fellowship, and fun. The theme of this year’s conference is “Sacred Encounter.”

Cost: $175


Benedictine College CATHEDRAL

June 15-20

Benedictine College’s CATHolic EDucation RALly examines the question “What does it mean to build a Catholic culture?” By exploring the Catholic intellectual tradition in literature, theology, philosophy, and the sciences, you will learn to build cathedrals for Christ.

Cost: $500


Benedictine College Voice

June 15–20

Join other high school students who have a desire to use their musical talents to serve the church. Explore traditions in praise throughout Catholic history as you perfect your skills and grow in leadership through small group ensembles, creating music that will inspire Catholic evangelization.

Cost: $500

Benedictine College also hosts a number of sports camps through its athletic department. Call the college at (913) 360-5340.


Benedictine University

5700 College Road

Lisle, IL 60532

(630) 829-6019

2014 OPUS Chamber Music Camp: August 3–9

The OPUS Chamber Music Camp is a summer day camp offered for beginner to advanced students of violin, viola, cello, bass, piano, harp, classical guitar, clarinet, and flute. The camp is held for six days during the first week of August on the campus of Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois.


Benedictine University Sports camps

Summer Sleuth for students entering 5th–9th grades.

Summer Fun Day Camp for ages 5–13


Christendom College

134 Christendom Drive

Front Royal, VA 22630

(800) 877–5456

Students who will be entering their senior year of high school in the fall of 2014 are welcome to register for the Summer 2014 programs at Christendom.

Four one-week sessions are scheduled for the summer of 2014 starting on June 15th, with approximately 45–50 students in each of the sessions.

Cost: $500


St. Columcille Institute program in Ireland

July 20–August 11

American students: $3,750

Includes price of the courses, room and board, three full meals per day, all excursions in Donegal and Dublin, and roundtrip airfare from the USA.

For more information or to apply, visit


Mount St. Mary’s University

16300 Old Emmitsburg Rd.

Emmitsburg, MD 21727

(301) 447-6122


Project Discovery—Robotics Camp

Project Discovery is a fun and “hands-on learning” two-week camp. Learn how to use Lego Mindstorms and design robots to solve problems. This exciting program develops and promotes STEM education.

Age: Students entering grades 4–6


CRUX 2012 Small Group Outdoor Adventure Camps

Age: Camps for 11–13 year olds

8:30–4:30 p.m. daily

Summer Sports Camps includes baseball, basketball, lacrosse, and soccer

For more information, call (301) 447-5215 or


Sacred Heart University

5151 Park Avenue

Fairfield, CT 06825

(203) 371-7942

With Sacred Heart University’s summer pre-college program, high-school students can explore college majors while earning college credit. For more information, contact Angela Pitcher, director of Summer/Winter Sessions and special programs.


Thomas Aquinas College

10,000 Ojai Road

Santa Paula, CA 93060

(800) 634-9797

The college’s Great Books High-School Program is a two-week program includes small class discussions and excursions off-campus as well as other planned activities.

Cost: $975 (includes tuition, housing, meals, books, and organized activities off campus)


University of Dallas

1845 East Northgate Drive

Irving, TX 75062

(972) 721-5000

The university offers three separate programs, two of which are held in Italy. The programs require that students be rising juniors or seniors or have just graduated from high school.



July 13–26

Cost $1,500 (includes tuition, room and board)


Latin in Rome

July 8–29

Cost $6,750 (all-inclusive, including travel to Italy)


Shakespeare in Rome

July 8–25

Cost $6,200 (all-inclusive including travel to Italy)


Wyoming Catholic College

1400 City Park Drive

Lander, WY

(877) 332-2930


PEAK 2014 is a two-week camp for young college-bound Catholics who seek an introduction to traditional liberal education and what life is like as a WCC student.

July 12–26

PEAK Ascent. A more outdoor-oriented, slightly shorter version of the popular two-week course.

August 3–12


Conventiculum Viomingense

A full-immersion Latin program “designed both to introduce aspiring Latinists to the beauty and power of the ancient language of the Church and to provide more advanced Latinists with an exciting opportunity to improve their abilities.”

June 11–20

Comments (0)
Add Comment