By JESSICA GOOLSBY | SoMdNews

Camp Maria Retreat Center will accept entries through Oct. 20 for its Nov. 13 Gospel Choir Extravaganza a prequel to next summer’s 75th anniversary bash.

“It’s more of a concert and gathering opportunity for the local community,” said Ann Kovalcik, director of the retreat, located on Breton Bay south of Leonardtown. “We’re inviting local Christian choirs, bands and gospel groups to perform and it’s really a day for families to come together and enjoy all that the center is about.”

The event from 2 to 6 p.m is designed to gather family-oriented, multi-denominational choirs and Southern Maryland music lovers to Camp Maria. Refreshments, face painting and other activities will be available.

“It’s really going to showcase all that Camp Maria Retreat Center has to offer,” said Sharon Bouchard, chair of Camp Maria’s development committee. “We’ll be advertising in local papers, on the radio and via fliers all over the place for this event. As this is the first event we’ve hosted like this, we’re just trying to promote a sense of community and show people what it means to be a part of Camp Maria.”

Founded in 1937 by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Ky., as a summer camp for girls, Camp Maria opened near Abell’s Wharf on Breton Bay before moving to its present location on Camp Maria Road. Originally from Charles County, Catherine Spalding, a founder of the religious order, and her family later moved to Kentucky, hence the strong connection between the two states.

“Their ministry started out taking care of orphans and then they later expanded into education and other aspects, all of which have played an incredible part of Southern Maryland’s history and legacy having been around for so long,” Kovalcik said. “So we’re using our Gospel Choir Extravaganza to kick off a long season of events leading up to next year’s 75th anniversary for the center.”

Kovalcik has been on Camp Maria’s board of directors since 2008 and took over as the retreat’s director July 1.

“I’ve been tied to this place since high school, though, as I attended camps here even back then,” she said. “I feel like I was really led to Camp Maria Retreat Center because I wasn’t actually looking for this job; it kind of found me.”

The center’s mission is to provide an atmosphere of prayer, hospitality and simplicity in a peaceful, natural environment for retreats and various types of renewal programs.

The site hosts a dining lodge, game room, bathhouse, meeting rooms and lodging buildings. Outdoor amenities included an outdoor altar area, pool, campfire site, boardwalk and pier, canoes, swings, basketball and volleyball courts. A total of 153 beds are available (51 in heated buildings), and all buildings as well as the pier and pool are wheelchair accessible.

“It’s absolutely beautiful here,” Kovalcik said. “As soon as you come here you can just feel the serenity … it’s so powerful. You have to see it to believe it.”

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