By: Chris “Topher” Aderhold
Filled with excitement and anticipation, we turned our simple rental car down the long driveway. Several people were gathered at the end of the driveway to welcome us, and as we got out of the car, one of them exclaimed, “Welcome to the original Camp Gray!”
Though we were 3,602 miles from Wisconsin, we had just arrived at Camp Gray – the original Camp Gray – the Gray farm in County Longford, Ireland.
The previous several days were spent exploring Ireland with two former CG staffers, Bill and Joe – we saw beautiful rolling fields of green, massive cliffs, thousand-year old castles, miles and miles of fences made of stone, and countless sheep at every turn. Our last stop on the journey was the stop we’d been looking forward to most – a visit to the Gray family farm.
People often ask why our Camp is named Gray – it’s because he dreamed the dream. Monsignor Francis Gray, born in 1898 at the Gray family farm, came to America to finish his seminary studies in the early 1920s. His Bishop allowed him to stay in America after ordination, so he could continue to serve the fine folks of southern Wisconsin. Later, as pastor at St. Joseph Parish in Baraboo, he dreamed of creating a safe place for youth – a place where they could be away from the busyness of the world, where they could make lifelong friends, where they could have loads of fun, and where they could grow deeper in their faith.
He knew he couldn’t do it alone, so he recruited dozens of locals to contribute to help purchase the land, and in the spring of 1953, a plot of land outside of Baraboo, just off of Shady Lane Rd., was purchased.
I’ve been reflecting lately on the good Monsignor’s dream – it was big, bold, and fearless. More than 100,000 people have been impacted by a Camp Gray experience since 1953 – both campers and staffers alike. It’s hard not to leave this place without being impacted in some way, and it all started with a dream.
Joe, Bill, I were welcomed warmly at the Gray farm, and we were treated to massive amounts of delicious “proper Irish food.” I’ll be forever grateful for the hospitality of the Gray’s.
While seated in their living room, surrounded by the family, we learned that shortly after the land for the camp was purchased, Monsignor became very ill. He returned to Ireland to be with his family in the hopes that they could help nurse him back to full health. It was there, in the very living room that we were gathered, that Monsignor would celebrate Mass each and every day, even as his illness grew worse. His sufferings were offered daily for the growth of his new camp in America.
He dreamed the dream, but unfortunately he never saw the fruits of his dream – not on this side of eternity, anyway. He died a couple years later, but before he died, we were told that he made peace with the fact that he’d done his part – his friends would have to continue his dream. Continue his dream they did, but first they named the Camp after him in his honor.
60+ years later, the dream continues here at Camp Gray. From humble beginnings, Camp Gray has grown into one of the preeminent Catholic Youth Camps in America. Camp Gray is a safe place for youth – a place where they’re away from the busyness of the world, where they make lifelong friends, where they have loads of fun, and where they grow deeper in their faith.
We refuse to dream small at Camp Gray, and we’re always dreaming of ways to ensure that Monsignor’s dream stays alive for 60+ more years. We dream of ways to better impact our campers, and we dream of ways to improve several aging areas of Camp Gray, in order to continue best serving the 5,000 young people that join us at Camp Gray each year.
Like the good Monsignor 60+ years ago – we know we can’t do it ourselves. We need your help. It’s time to take action. It’s time to grow Camp Gray.
Monsignor Francis Xavier Gray, founder of Camp Gray, son of Ireland, adopted son of America, friend to many, pray for us!
For more information about the future of Camp Gray, please visit: Tomorrow’s Camp Gray.