Camp Gray: Summer camp friends and fun with a Catholic identity Print
Thursday, Aug. 09, 2012 -- 9:07 AM

Youth at Camp Gray smile as they sit in the pew of the St. Francis of Assisi Chapel before Mass. (Catholic Herald photo/Kat Wagner)REEDSBURG — When you’re a kid, summer means camp — and camp means being outdoors, swimming, playing games, making new friends and seeing old ones, eating new foods, and just plain having fun.

And Camp Gray has all of that, but it also has something that, for people of faith, is more important: a Catholic identity.

On a recent trip to Camp Gray, I was escorted around the camp by Theresa Wilks, or “Mo-T,” a staff member in her eighth year at the camp. This fall, provided she can finish paying off the last $5,000 of her student loans, she will be joining the Order of the Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George, based in Alton, Ill.

“I’m passionate about working with kids and sharing the faith — and I don’t think there’s a better place to do that,” Wilks said. “Obviously, I’m biased, because I work here, but I think the Diocese of Madison is a great place to be in general and the people I work with here are passionate in the same way about kids, about helping them to grow in holiness.”

The kids clearly love their counselors, too. Throughout the day, young campers approached to tell me breathlessly about how Mo-T was “kidnapped” by the older campers, but they rescued her — and her cookies.

And it was clear from other interactions, as well, that the hero-worship wasn’t restricted to Mo-T. Fishers raced to their counselors for approval when they pulled trout from Lake Jake (even when they didn’t need help taking the fish off the hook). Campers stopped to talk and fist-bump summer chaplain Fr. Tim Renz as they left the chapel following Mass. One group of young campers eagerly sought their counselors’ permission to dress as ninjas for lunch (and the counselors came dressed up, as well).

Over the years, the camp has provided Mass, opportunities for Confession, Eucharistic Adoration, prayer, and more. This environment offers fertile ground for spiritual growth.

But with strong, faith-filled counselors and staff as guides, it also offers them a place to build a Catholic identity that can sometimes be challenged by the world.

“Who feels like it’s easier here at Camp Gray to pray, to be closer to the Lord than at home?” Father Renz asked during his homily at Friday Mass, receiving a smattering of upraised hands. “The reason for this is because Jesus goes against our culture; we say that Jesus is ‘counter-cultural,’” he said. “If you want to follow Jesus, you’re going to go through some hard times.”

Do we have the strength of Jesus? “I think you do,” Father Renz said. “You come to Mass, you receive Jesus in the Eucharist, you receive the Holy Spirit in you. You have Jesus with you all the time to make good decisions.

“You guys have that here at Camp Gray — I think that’s why it’s easier to follow him at camp, because we’re like an army of Jesus-followers here,” he said. “But how can we do that, have that strength in the world?

“I encourage you all, when you go home, to remember this army of believers you have here and remember that Jesus is always with you; always stand up for what you know is right, what Jesus tells us to do, so we can follow him all our lives.”


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