REEDSBURG -- Amid the usual camp trappings of games, outdoor activities, new friends, this past summer Camp Gray was able to offer an added dimension to its spiritual offerings.
The camp, which is owned by the Diocese of Madison, bears proudly its Catholic identity. Since its founding in 1953 by Msgr. Francis Xavier Gray, then pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Baraboo, the camp has consistently provided Mass and faith-filled counselors and staff. This summer, however, it had the added bonus of a priest who worked even more closely with the camp on a more full-time basis.
Fr. Gregory Ihm was assigned as summer chaplain to the camp in 2010 after his ordination in June. His presence provided the youth and their counselors greater access to Mass, praise and prayer, and Confessions. On Tuesdays the older group of campers was offered the opportunity for Adoration, and on Thursdays for four hours the camp offered Adoration in the chapel for whomever wanted to adore.
“We don’t force kids to go, but offer them the opportunity,” Father Ihm said. “The beautiful thing is whenever we had it, we always had people there.”
It was also recently announced that this greater access to the spiritual growth through the sacraments for campers and staff alike would continue this summer. Fr. Brian Dulli, who has served as parochial vicar, Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Parish in Sun Prairie since his ordination in 2006, was appointed parochial vicar at St. Joseph Parish, Baraboo, and to chaplain for Camp Gray after he finishes his Licentiate studies in Theology at the seminary in Mundelein, Ill., in March.
This is not a radical change from the many years of weekly all-camp Mass on Fridays and the faithful service of nearby priests such as Fr. Larry Bakke, whose parish of St. Joseph in Baraboo serves the camp. But it does highlight the importance of formation in the Catholic faith for the hundreds of campers who come annually for fun and activities, as well as the deepening of the awareness of Catholic clergy.
“We want them to send their kids to Camp Gray because we do stress the importance of faith life,” said Chris Aderhold, assistant director of the camp. “They see that the staff and Father Greg take their faith life seriously, but also love to have fun and love to be outside.”
The camp has a Catholic identity year round, with Confirmation retreats that focus on faith and the sacraments, environmental courses that teach the love and stewardship of the creation God gave us, and other retreats for parishes and groups. The summer offers the weeklong camps for youth, as well as a few two-week sessions for older campers. These sessions offer the chance to combine friends and fun with faith.
The presence of priests offers not only access to the sacraments, but also the opportunity to interact with a priest on a more down-to-earth way than only seeing them at Mass on Sunday. Father Ihm interacted with the older Pathfinders, learned all the mealtime prayers and chants, and played capture the flag, basketball, and other games with the youth.
“This is giving them a real perspective on who priests are,” Father Ihm said.
“We’ve been able to do a lot more with the sacraments,” said Sean Deignan, who worked with the explorers and voyagers this summer.
In the past, it was hard for the visiting priests to come out to the village and interact with the older campers, Deignan said, but Father Ihm’s presence gave them a closer encounter. Reaching youth can be hard — especially at camp, where there’s only a week or so to build up the bond that can break down barriers. The Adoration, Mass, and time to just “hang out” offered a chance for God to find an opening.
“There can be a little nervousness,” Deignan said of the sessions. At the beginning, the youth are not quite opening up — “are they taking any of this in?” he said. “By the end of the week, there’s no words for it. They’re seeing it. And I think, ‘Why did I worry? God’s going to get them.’”
And the benefits weren’t solely a one-way street.
For Father Ihm, this summer at Camp Gray helped take everything he learned in seminary and solidified the change he experienced at ordination as a representative of Christ to the world.
“It has really firmed up the sacramental reality of the priesthood,” he said. “I haven’t had to deal with administrative things straight off. I’m totally caught up in the sacramental moment.
“It takes a lot to wrap your mind around that,” Father Ihm said. “I’m making Christ visible in the Eucharist. I’m forgiving sins in his name . . . it’s helped me grow into a deeper recognition of who I am now.”
The hope for Camp Gray is that the deepening of faith — on all sides — will lead the Catholic youth to be more aware of their faith and the sacraments and, perhaps, even a few who might find Father Ihm’s or Father Dulli’s example inspiring.
For more information on Camp Gray and its programs, visit www.campgray.com, e-mail
, or call 800-711-4729.