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)




An author, a teacher, a candlestick maker? I am lucky enough to have followed my muse through a most eclectic life of many careers, many interests, and many friends and liasions. Two beautiful children, now grown and one their own, several books -- the penultimate accomplishment dream come true, a hores trainer, a college professor, and a stint in corporate America to validate my feelings that I never, ever want to go there again. So I donned my ruby slippers and dared to take those different paths, those diverging paths, and that has made all the difference! (Thank you, Robert!)

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5 comments on “The Grotto
  1. Elizabeth Brown says:

    Neat! I like your memory–well written. This has the makings of a short story “The Grotto” ? Photographs are great–love that old stuff.

    • madmuser says:

      That’s a great idea, Elizabeth — a short story about The Grotto. I am working on a novel where I’m incorporating the old Power Plant as one of the settings. It haunts me even as I write. thanks for your kind words.

  2. Jerry McGovern says:

    Gotta be a metaphor for the declining RCC in those photos of the dilapidated grotto. I was there as a camper and visited the grotto at the end of the ’90s. You evoke the “catholicness” of CSJ very well.

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