Catholic summer camp serving Tennessee dioceses combines nature, spirituality
By Theresa Laurence, Catholic News Service
For generations of young people, Camp Marymount in Fairview, Tenn., has been more than a place to spend a few weeks in the summer. It’s where bonds are forged over campfires, craft projects and late-night talks under the stars.
“The thing about camp is it’s timeless, it hasn’t changed that much,” said Jose Gonzalez, former camper and counselor at Camp Marymount, who now sends his children there.
As Camp Marymount celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, its leaders are encouraging former campers and counselors to attend a camp reunion family weekend Aug. 8-10.
As the Southeast’s only Catholic summer residential camp, Marymount draws campers from Tennessee, surrounding states and even Mexico and Canada. Part of its charm is how it has stayed the same over the years and doesn’t have fancy amenities. In fact, camper cabins have no air conditioning or attached bathrooms and the camp doesn’t have a swimming pool or indoor gym.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from or how much money you have,” Gonzalez said, because at camp, everyone is on a level playing field, new to each other, ready to survive and thrive together in the weeks ahead.
At the camp, some new buildings have been added recently, but the rustic, communal living environment — and most of the activities– have remained the same for decades.
Camp Marymount’s roots reach back to 1939 to Camp Happy Hollow in Joelton, a small Catholic residential camp owned by the Diocese of Nashville. In the fall of 1945, the late Monsignor George Rohling purchased a fishing camp in Fairview thinking it would be the ideal place for the diocese to expand its summer camp.
When Marymount opened its current location in 1946, it had a small lodge, an infirmary, nine cabins and an outdoor chapel. Two years later, senior camp was added to better accommodate older campers. St. Anthony’s Chapel was dedicated in 1951. Then, for more than 50 years, Marymount’s buildings remained nearly unchanged.
It was not until 2008 that major renovations and additions were completed at the camp. That year a new dining hall, offices, meeting rooms and winterized staff cabins were added, allowing the camp to operate on a year-round basis by hosting retreats and special events. A new chapel also was added.
Today, Camp Marymount totals 340 acres, 18 rustic camper cabins, four cabins for support staff and retreats, an outdoor amphitheater, nature center and a five-acre spring-fed lake.
Tommy Hagey, who has served as the camp director for 17 years, is a second generation Marymounter. Both of his parents attended camp as have seven of his eight children.
Hagey’s mother, Susie Pierini Hagey, remembers spending her summers at Marymount’s original incarnation, Camp Happy Hollow. She recalls summers during World War II during which they “ate Spam every day” in the camp dining hall.
“I loved it,” she said of the camp. “I still love it. I’d go back now if I wasn’t 81,” she told the Tennessee Register, diocesan newspaper of Nashville.