Keep the dream alive at Camp Gray Print
Thursday, Oct. 05, 2017 -- 12:00 AM

It all started with a parish priest’s simple dream in 1953, recounts the history of Camp Gray.

Msgr. Francis Gray was pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Baraboo. He dreamed of a place “where youths would be free and away from the temptations of the streets; where they could enjoy nature and become acquainted with it firsthand . . . a place where they could commune, under supervision, with their Creator and away from paths so frequently leading to delinquency.”

Dream becomes reality

So, Monsignor Gray scouted out potential sites but became enamored of an unoccupied, uncultivated 100-acre wooded site about eight miles northwest of Baraboo.

Monsignor Gray persuaded the parishioner owner, Charles McGinnis, to sell the property at a reasonable price, and the title to the land was transferred to the parish in 1953. The purchase money was immediately donated by six local people. On July 15 , Bishop William P. O’Connor officiated at the dedication of the camp.

Local parishioners began working on the first structures of the camp (the St. Clare cabin is the only original cabin remaining). They used surplus ammunition crates from the inactivated Badger Ordnance Works.

During the early years, the camp was used primarily by Boy Scouts and other local groups for camping.

Monsignor Gray died in 1957, and Fr. Vincent Browne succeeded him as camp director, naming the camp, Camp Gray.

Grown by leaps and bounds

The camp has grown by leaps and bounds since then. By the mid-1960s,  about 500 boys attended the summer camp each year. In 1968, the Diocese of Madison incorporated the camp.

I became personally acquainted with Camp Gray in the 1980s, when my own children attended the camp during the summer. Fortunately, it was in the 1980s when Camp Gray began to offer girls the opportunity to experience Camp Gray. At first, two weeks were set aside for girls only. Then in 1984, the camp became entirely co-ed.

Since we had children of both sexes in our family, it was nice for us — and other families — that the children could attend during the same week.

We always trusted that our kids would have fun and be well cared for during their time at Camp Gray. That assurance continues today. Now, nearly 5,000 young people attend Camp Gray each year, some 1,500 in the summer camp and others participating in year-round programs.

Community campaign

In order to expand the number of campers and provide more program offerings, the camp has undertaken a community campaign called “Strength for the Journey: Growing Our Legacy of Family and Faith.”

This is a $6 million project that helps fund a new dining hall (already built), a new gym, resurfacing of roads, and a renovated athletic field. The campaign began in 2016, and $4 million has already been raised.

This week’s Catholic Herald includes an article and pictures about Camp Gray, along with a contribution envelope. People can also donate online at

Please join me in giving a generous donation to this campaign. Camp Gray is such a treasure in our diocese. Let’s keep it strong so future generations can enjoy Monsignor Gray’s dream.