After fire, director reflects on Camp St. Malo's important role

The Camp St. Malo Retreat Center severely damaged in a Nov. 14 fire has had a “huge” place in the life of the Catholic Church in Colorado, its director says.
“It’s a wonderful place with a wonderful history,” center director José Ambrozic told CNA on Nov. 15.

“Many priests can trace their vocations to their experience as campers at St. Malo, or as seminarians who during the summers helped as camp counselors.”

A fire destroyed much of the center's three-story, 49-room lodge and conference center on Monday. Firefighters initially believed flammable gases built up in a chimney and ignited, causing an explosion.

The retreat center had sent home its guests on Sunday because of a power outage caused by high winds.
“I’m sad because of everything St. Malo represents. It will be a challenge to rebuild,” Ambrozic said.  “On the other hand, I’m very glad that there are no personal casualties.”

“All in all, I think we were spared from something much worse.”

The camp was built for young people during the 1930s and renovated into a conference center during the 1980s.

“Camp St. Malo has a huge history not only with Catholics in Colorado. There are many families from all over the country that send their kids to camp. Some of the alumni are still very engaged with the future of St. Malo from Illinois, Kansas, and Nebraska, just to name a few places.”

“It’s a strong reference point for many people.”

The retreat center also played a role in the life of Bl. John Paul II, who visited the camp for World Youth Day in August 1993.

“The room where the Pope stayed has been saved. That wasn’t damaged,” Ambrozic said.

The contents of a closet containing memorabilia from his visit appear to have mostly survived. However, the losses included a storage room containing the bedspread and blankets John Paul II used during his visit.

Earlier reports of total loss were “speculations” according to Ambrozic. A firewall and fire doors helped contain the blaze.

However, the fire did cause “significant” destruction.

Ambrozic emphasized that the retreat center still awaits a professional assessment, but he estimated that about 40 percent of the building was damaged.

Before the fire, he lived at the center with four of his fellow consecrated members in the Christian Life Movement and one aspirant to the community.

They are presently staying elsewhere and are in “pretty high spirits.”

“We’re happy to know that there are a lot of expressions of solidarity and people offering sacrifices and prayers for us, for the retreat center,” Ambrozic told CNA.

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“We thank everybody for their prayers, and I ask everyone to pray for us so we can get this camp back in service for Catholics in Colorado.”

The future of St. Malo, he said, is something for the Archdiocese of Denver to decide.

“In terms of our community, we’re very much committed to helping in any way we can to rebuild the center and get it back into operating shape as soon as possible,” Ambrozic continued.

“I think it’s worth every effort to get it back running. For Catholics in Colorado, it’s an important resource.”

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