By: Chris “Topher” Aderhold
At the St. Joseph Cemetery, in the nearby town of Baraboo, atop a tree-covered hill, you’ll find the final resting place of Monsignor Francis Xavier Gray. It was Monsignor Gray that first dreamed the dream – he dreamed of starting a Summer Camp for kids.
His dream was born from seeing a need. Monsignor Gray recognized that we live in sometimes dark and challenging times, and he wanted to build a place that would offer hope to kids. He didn’t just dream it – he got to work. He began spreading the word, organizing financial supporters, and scouting locations for his camp. Eight miles northwest of Baraboo, WI, he came across a wooded area that was too good to be true. In 1953, his Camp was born, and his dream became a reality.
Monsignor Gray hailed from County Longford, Ireland. Much of his family still resides in County Longford, including his great-nephew Frank, and his great-nieces Maura and Martha. Growing up in Ireland, Maura, Martha, and Frank heard many stories about a Summer Camp their great-uncle Francis founded in a far away land called Wisconsin.
In the past five or so years, Frank has visited us here at Camp Gray a couple of times, (read about them here and here) but his sisters Maura and Martha had yet to make the journey. That all changed this past summer.
A few weeks into Summer Camp 2016, I received an email from Ireland. Maura and Martha were interested in visiting their great-uncle’s camp. Arrangements were made, and a few weeks later, after a flight from Dublin to Chicago, and then a train ride from Chicago to the Dells, they found themselves in the faraway land of Wisconsin. I picked them up from the train station and excitedly rushed them back to Camp Gray (with a stop first for some delicious butter burger’s at Culver’s, of course).
When we arrived at Camp Gray, Maura and Martha were greeted with a large welcome sign… and a ghost town. They’d arrived on a Tuesday evening, when all of our campers and staffers are scattered around our 225 acres for cookouts at various fire pits. It was nice to show Maura and Martha around while things were a bit quieter on main camp, but the quiet was soon behind us once we wandered over to the athletic field, as CTF on the AF (Capture the Flag on the Athletic Field) had begun.
CTF on the AF is always a beautiful display of absurd controlled chaos. Thankfully, we have time to give extensive instructions to our campers before we play CTF. Never before have I been tasked with explaining CTF on the AF in the middle of the game, as the beautiful display of absurd controlled chaos crescendos into utter breathtaking pandemonium. It was a fun challenge attempting to explain the madness. The next day, Maura and Martha patiently returned the favor as they attempted to explain to a few of us the rules of the super action-packed Irish sport of hurling. (Don’t know what hurling is? Check this out.)
It was a great joy to welcome Maura and Martha to Camp Gray. It was awesome to see them take part in the Camp Gray experience.
On their final morning in the U.S., before I took them back to the train station, Maura and Martha asked if we could visit the grave of their great-uncle. Once we arrived at St. Joseph Cemetery and made our way up the tree-covered hill, I stood off at a distance, allowing them to pay their respects. It was a powerful moment to reflect on the far-reaching impact of Monsignor’s dream. His camp has come a long ways in the 63-years since his dream became a reality.
Monsignor Gray wanted to make the world he was living in a better place. He didn’t just sit around talking about it – he took action, he got the ball rolling, and he laid the foundation upon which his Camp still stands. I’m confident I express the sentiments of many when I write that Camp Gray has impacted me beyond words. To say that I’m grateful that he worked hard to turn his dream into reality would be an enormous understatement.
The day after Maura and Martha left, I received another email from Ireland. They wrote to tell me they’d returned safely to County Longford, and they wrote to express their gratitude for an awesome experience at their great-uncle’s camp.
In closing, they wrote,
“May God continue to bless you all in the words of an old Irish prayer:
‘May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face, the rains fall soft upon your fields, and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.’”
Let’s dream about making this world a better place, and then let’s do something about it.
Thanks for your great support of Camp Gray!
P.S. Perhaps someday, on the Summer Camp Session Chart, you’ll find an option to register your camper for a Voyageur trip to Ireland – to the Knock Shrine, the Cliffs of Moher, the Dingle Peninsula, the Blarney Stone, and of course a trip to County Longford to walk the fields and bogs of the original Camp Gray. (What do you think, Gray family? :) )