Have you ever heard the thrilling story about the young camper who will always remember the deep blue waters of Camp Gray’s Lake Jake as the location of her first catch? Have you ever heard the epic saga of a misplaced hat that, once found and reunited with its proper owner, ignited a standing ovation of hundreds and nearly brought tears to the eyes of grown men? Have you ever heard the heartwarming story of the second grader that filled her grandmother with joy when she spoke of the Blessed Sacrament?
My name is Topher, and I am the Assistant Director at Camp Gray. If you haven’t heard of Camp Gray, then my hope is that this article will remedy that. If you have heard of Camp Gray, don’t stop reading — you too will enjoy (I put my personal guarantee on it)! Camp Gray is the Diocese of Madison’s Catholic Summer Camp and Retreat Center. Founded in 1953 by Msgr. Francis Xavier Gray, much has changed in the many decades since our humble beginnings. However, one thing remains the same: Camp Gray continues to be the benchmark when it comes to Catholic camps in our great nation. Camp Gray is a place where campers go to have fun — taking part in traditional camp activities such as archery, canoeing, fishing, arts and crafts, and horseback riding.
When asked at the beginning of her week at Camp Gray what she was most excited about, Molly responded to her counselor, “I want to catch a fish.” Molly had never caught a fish before and was more than ecstatic to try her luck casting out into camp’s Lake Jake. Four days and roughly 438 casts later, Molly had yet to catch a fish, and time was running out. Molly’s counselor hadn’t forgotten about her lofty goal, so with a mere 10 minutes left during the final fishing program of the week, Molly’s counselor took the rod from Molly and cast her line far out to the middle of the lake. The eyes of both Molly and her counselor were frozen on the bobber — hoping, yearning — even praying — for the thrill and excitement that immediately follows witnessing your bobber sink below the surface of the water — especially when it’s the first time! Sure enough, not two minutes later, Molly’s bobber sank like a brick. Molly’s counselor quickly set the hook and handed the rod to Molly. Though Molly hadn’t ever caught a fish, she knew full well what was to happen next, so she began in earnest cranking away at the reel. Her friends couldn’t contain their excitement for Molly as they came running to lend their support. No doubt, there are much bigger fish than the one Molly caught that day, but the tiny blue gill Molly pulled from the depths of Lake Jake will never be forgotten.
Camp Gray is a place where campers have 40 faith-filled, college aged staff members from all over the country to look up to and to learn from, and where they can be themselves and make new friends.
Mark bought a brand new Camp Gray hat his first day at camp last summer, and by the second day, the hat had been misplaced (we don’t lose things at Camp Gray). It was apparent to his counselors and to the rest of his cabin group that Mark was pretty bummed about the missing hat. The group immediately rallied around Mark and dedicated the rest of the week to tracking down the hat. The last day of camp came, and there was still no sign of the missing hat. The group penned a song in a last ditch effort to spread the word about the missing hat. Mark’s cabin group also recruited camp’s arts and crafts specialist to design a poster to be hung in the pavilion (where all camp meals take place) with a sketch of the missing hat and the text: “Mark Lost His Hat.” Unbeknownst to anyone in the pavilion during the singing of the new smash hit single, “Mark Lost His Hat,” Jeff, Camp Gray’s co-director, fatefully stumbled across the missing hat. As the song finished, there was a brief moment of silence as 400 eyes scanned the pavilion in the hopes that Mark’s hat would suddenly appear. When no hat appeared, disappointment began to fill the Camp Gray pavilion. Mark and his cabin mates slowly began finding their seats with looks of defeat on their faces. Then, as if prodded providentially, Jeff flung open the pavilion’s double doors and pulled from behind his back a simple hat. The pavilion erupted into a scene of joy and pandemonium. Mark and his fellow cabin mates couldn’t believe their eyes. Sure, it was only a hat, but that hat was responsible for uniting not only a cabin group, but all 200 people present that day.
Camp Gray is a place where campers go to be challenged to try new things, and where campers grow in their faith — taking part in Reconciliation, Mass, and Adoration, in addition to nightly devotions with their respective cabin group. Jeff received a phone call last week from the grandmother of three Camp Gray campers. She was eager to share with Jeff an exchange she and her youngest granddaughter, Martha, had during Ash Wednesday Mass. Just before the consecration, Grandma turned to Martha and whispered, “This is it — where the miracle happens — when Jesus becomes truly present.” Martha, a second grader, has yet to receive her first communion, so her response to her grandmother was a surprise:
A common phrase heard from both campers and staff when they are departing Camp Gray is that they’re returning to the “real world.” Former Camp Gray counselor, Fr. Alan Dietzenbach, once asked, “Well, if Camp Gray isn’t the ‘real world,’ then what is it?”
Most likely, you haven’t heard any of these stories. The amazing thing about life at Camp Gray is that stories like these happen every day. What do you get when you mix faith and friends and a whole heap of fun? You get a little slice of heaven.
There is your answer, Fr. Alan. If Camp Gray isn’t the real world, then it must be a little slice of heaven, nestled in the piney woods of the northwest corner of the Diocese of Madison.
“To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” — Philippians 4:20
Note: This article was originally published in the Madison Catholic Herald way back in the 11th year of the 3rd millennium.
Thanks for reading!