The Grotto

Grotto 58

I have recently connected with people I knew when I was five and six  years old from a place called Camp St. Joseph.  It was in the Catskill Mountains near a town called Monticello and it carries some of the most magical, and haunting, memories of my childhood.

St. Joe’s was run by Dominican nuns and as one so young,  I lived in fear of the old-school Catholic rituals that accompanied summer fun.  At that stage in my life, nuns terrified me: I was convinced that they never went to the bathroom, something I probably got from their floor-to-head habits  and rosary beads tied around their waists. With all of that encasing them, how could they possibly deal with a toilet? Each day began with a brief service in our own on-site chapel, with a full-blown, often including incense, Mass on Sundays. Our homes were quaint little red and white cabins, six or seven girls to a cabin, with a resident nun to keep things copacetic.

And so now, fifty years later,  there are two special things about St. Joe’s that have especially haunted my dreams, and they are both about a place.  But for now, I’ll talk about just one: The Grotto.

For an impressionable six-year-old, The Grotto was a magnificent, but very scary, place. It was Carved into the side of a hill, it housed a statue of Our Lady along with other relics, carvings in Latin, and a gated area where visitors lit votive candles in memory of loved ones passed on.  We had many special ceremonies there, singing chorus after chorus of the  hymn “Immaculate Mary,”  while we marched in procession feeling awe and fear that only the Catholic church could instill in young children.

The camp is long gone, burned down to make way for homes, golf courses, and country clubs, but for all these years, I have  wondered if anything remained, in particular, The Grotto. And so, just this past week, one of the former boys campers (the boys camp was on the opposite side of the lake from the girl’s camp) returned from a nostalgia trip to the land where the camp once stood, and of course, he looked for The Grotto. This is what he found:

(Photos courtesy of Bob Furia)

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