Chaplain is part of the faith and fun at Camp Gray Print
Around the Diocese
Written by Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Aug. 08, 2019 -- 12:00 AM
camp gray
Fr. Jared Holzhuter, chaplain of Camp Gray near Reedsburg, visits with summer campers during lunch. (Catholic Herald photo/Kevin Wondrash)

REEDSBURG -- The morning scene inside St. Francis of Assisi Oratory is befitting of its rural setting -- a house of God amid the trees, quiet, and occasional sounds of wildlife.

Fr. Jared Holzhuter opens up the sacristy, walks to the altar carrying the necessary items, turns on the lights, and gets the building ready for morning Mass.

This timeless image is not taking place in a country parish, however. It’s at Camp Gray Catholic Camp, near Reedsburg.

Camp Gray is the Catholic summer camp and year-round retreat center of the Diocese of Madison.

Since 2017, following his ordination to the priesthood, Father Jared has been the chaplain at Camp Gray, along with serving as the parochial vicar at St. Joseph Parish in nearby Baraboo.

A present priest

“A big part of the role [of chaplain] is being around and being present to the campers,” said Father Jared. “Just being a priest here at Camp Gray.”

Prior to the start of his assignment, Father Jared had been to Camp Gray “all of one day”.

“I didn’t really know quite what to expect,” he added.

“When I first showed up here, I was a little overwhelmed, because camp is its own culture. People are screaming things, repeating things, singing songs, doing dances, and it takes a little while to get into the life of camp. Once you get into that, it’s really awesome.”

The role of the chaplain at Camp Gray is to “provide for the spiritual needs” of the campers and staff.

During a camp week, Father Jared hears Confessions, celebrates Mass, and is also available for the counselors “if they want to talk”.

He’s at camp for most of the week while assisting at St. Joseph on the weekends.

During the non-summer months, when Camp Gray operates as a retreat center for the diocese, Father Jared stops by weekly to support the year-round staff, as well as helping on retreats with Confessions and Mass during the year.

He said he likes the opportunity to “see different groups in the diocese come through.”

Connecting with campers

Following a recent all-camp Friday Mass, Father Jared stood outside the oratory to greet and connect with campers and staff members.

The connections ranged from high fives to faith questions.

A few moments later, he headed out to the Panda Ball pit and basketball court (affectionately known as the “BBC”) to visit and talk with campers and join in the fun with them.

What started as a friendly one-on-one basketball game with a young camper soon turned into a three-on-three contest, with Father Jared willingly “sharing the rock” with his young teammates.

Even while wearing sandals, along with the priestly long black shirt and collar, the young priest was able to show off a few moves on the court.

As the lunch bell rang, Father Jared followed all the campers and staff to the St. John Paul II Dining Hall for “Taco Friday.”

The joyful chaplain chose a table to sit and eat lunch with several girls and their leaders. There, his lunchmates treated him like any other friend at the table, making jokes, asking questions, and partaking in general Camp Gray silliness.

“At camp, everyone’s on the same level,” he said, adding, “they do respect me.”

Speaking on his relationship with the campers, he said, “They see a real person, one who can play sports or goof around or get knocked out in Panda Ball. That helps them to see I’m a real person . . . My job is obviously to speak of Christ and give them the sacraments, but [it helps] them to hear that from me when they know that I’m a real person.”

Having fun on the job

While Father Jared hasn’t yet gotten to experience all the fun that Camp Gray has to offer, such as horseback riding or the climbing wall, he has had his share of fun.

His first week at camp, he got to be a Cassidy Games chief versus Fr. Chris Gernetzke, who was the outgoing chaplain at the time.

Named after former camp director Fr. Kevin Cassidy, the Cassidy Games are a weeklong competition with points that are tallied while campers grow in teamwork, sportsmanship, and respect.

The games culminate on the week’s final night with mini-battles and the Lake Jake Relay Race, where the winning chief raises his/her team flag to the top of their flagpole, thus winning the games.

Father Jared and his team were victorious.

“There’s nothing quite like having 50 kids cheering in jubilation over a victory,” he said. “It was a great way to get introduced to camp life.”

He admitted that when he talks to brother priests about how his ministry is going, “I kind of have to bite my tongue a little bit, because I get to run around outside, do priest things, and get to be the priest for like 200 people a week” and “just be outside and have fun with kids.”

A special assignment

Like previous recent chaplains Frs. Greg Ihm, Tim Renz, Garrett Kau, and Father Gernetzke, Father Jared’s time at Camp Gray is the first stop in what, God-willing, will be many years of priestly service to the Diocese of Madison before he moves on to his next assignment.

“Camp is such a unique place,” said Father Jared. In years to come, “I don’t think I’ll ever live in such a close community and minister to them as well. We all live [here] for five days straight, and that’s a special ministry.

“Camp does a good job of breaking down the boundaries that people might have to faith, and they’re very open to God. I get to see young people have kind of moments of conversion, which is really a privilege.”

For more information on Camp Gray, go to

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