||Campers enjoy a "Mexican Miercoles" lunch with their counselors at Camp Gray. For more pictures of Camp Gray, click here.
BARABOO -- The woodsy campsite was abuzz with activity during the last week of Camp Gray. Campers talked, laughed, and engaged in their new favorite game, played inside an octagon, which they call “Panda Ball.”
This scene of fun is not uncommon in the nine summer sessions of Camp Gray, and an atmosphere of Christian spirit permeates each moment of activity at the camp.
The days of campers open with morning praise and end with night devotions.
A young camper, Aaron, 10, described these devotions. “We all get together and pray. We say things that we did in the day, our favorites, and stuff like that.”
In addition to morning and night prayer, there are many times throughout the day that kids have a chance to experience their Christianity and that of those around them.
Now on her seventh year as a counselor, Theresa Wilks, more commonly known at camp as “Mo-T,” alluded to a famous quote of Pope John Paul II: “The witness of a Christian life is the first and irreplaceable form of mission.”
She then continued, “I think when campers get older, they start to realize that we’re teaching them all day. We’re showing them how to be good Christians. It’s good for campers to see us living out what we are telling them.”
Learning and growing
Wilks became involved in Camp Gray after searching online for a summer job that could utilize her love of youth ministry.
“Camp Gray was the first camp that popped up when I Googled Catholic summer camps. I thought I’d work here for one summer and then move on to something else, but God had other plans.”
She has never looked back since that time. “I continue to learn and grow every summer I come here.”
The growth that Wilks spoke of is found in many age groups at Camp Gray. With programs for kids in grades two to 12, and families throughout the year, there is “always something going on,” as camp director Rebecca Hoeben put it.
Currently finishing her fourth summer as co-director of the camp with her husband Jeff, Hoeben lives on site and as she put it, “wears a lot of hats,” in her position.
She came to camp as a young camper herself and was inspired to minor in camp administration during her college years, eventually coming back with a strong belief in the ministry of this camp.
“I wanted to see it go on,” she said. She feels fortunate to be involved in something that changed her own life so deeply in her youth.
Age groups for summer camps include the Settlers (second through fifth grade), Trailblazers (sixth through eighth grade), Pathfinders (eighth through 10th grade), and the Explorers (10th through 12th grade).
Faith, energy contagious
There’s a common link between all ages of camp. As Fr. Tim Renz put it, “It’s building them up into good Christians. They get a chance to be themselves here. They can be who they want to be and find God in that.”
He also alluded to an important goal of the camp, service to the Lord: “Hopefully [the campers] can start thinking about their vocations.”
As a newly ordained diocesan priest, he was assigned to spend a large part of the summer at this camp, and while he had little connection with the camp before this assignment, his affinity for it has not stopped growing: “I had never had actually gone to camp before this summer. I walked in in the middle of the summer, and I fell in love with it immediately.
“The faith of the staff is amazing and their energy. That faith and energy is contagious. The kids catch it.”
Camp Gray offers a lot of fun while living out the faith. The activities are carried out with Christian spirit. A young camper described the variety clearly when, after being asked what he would be doing in the afternoon. “So, we say a prayer, then eat, then swim, and eat ice cream!”
When the lunch bell rings, the campers gather quickly in the lunch hall, and when everybody is standing, pray a short rhyming prayer. Lunch is filled with energy and various cheers.
Many counselors grew up coming to camp and enjoyed it enough to come back and pass on the faith they learned from their years.
Diocese of Madison seminarian Bill Van Wagner was one such case. Now finishing his third summer of camp on staff, he has been coming to Camp Gray since second grade.
“I came once and loved it so I just kept coming back,” he said about his experience.
He said this camp has a different flavor, something more than others. “This gives kids an opportunity to encounter Christ in a comfortable and supportive environment. They see that it’s good and necessary to have a relationship with Christ.
“We learn how to set up an environment for them to succeed. It’s also a time for counselors to grow spiritually. We learn how to form hearts and learn from young people, too.”
Camp Gray offers a vibrant Catholic community with events, camps, and retreats all year round, and as camper, Henry, put it, “This is the awesomest camp on Earth!”