In 1945 Archbishop of St. Paul John Gregory Murray assigned a young priest Father Jack Sweeney to direct the Catholic Youth Center of St. Paul. The Catholic Youth Center ran a variety of youth programs for Catholic children and teens. Sweeney wanted to expand programming and in 1946 suggested a camping program. That summer he took 65 boys to Itasca State Park in Northern Minnesota. From that experience Sweeney proposed the idea of founding a camp.
In 1947 changes to the property tax laws meant that John Kessler a local funeral home director was going to be paying much higher taxes for his hunting lodge in Aitkin County. He offered the property to Sweeney and the CYC Boys Camp found a home on Big Sandy Lake in McGregor Minnesota. Contrary to popular belief Catholic Youth Camp has never been part of the Archdioceses. Catholic Youth Camp began as an independent organization with its first summer of camp programming in 1947.
Sweeney worked hard to raise money seeking donations from individuals in the community and local organizations like the Catholic Parents Club and Knights of Columbus. He received food donations from local grocery stores and as original staffer Ted Collins describes “Father Jack was a great salesman. He ran camp on a shoestring but found support from all over.”
Catholic Youth Camp was incorporated at a nonprofit organization July 15 1949. The first meeting of the Board of Directors was held December 1 1949 where Father Jack Sweeney was appointed president of the board. In 1955 Catholic Youth Camp was accredited by the American Camping Association which is a voluntary process but lends credibility to camps as accreditation requires adherence to a long list of safety procedures and business practices. Accredited camps are recognized as having organizational systems structured programming and follow the quality standards set forth by the American Camping Association.
In the late 1960s the organization expanded programming to include female campers. By the end of the 1970s participation had nearly doubled in a ten year period.
During the late 1980s and through the late 1990s Catholic Youth Camp saw tremendous growth in program registrations facility developments donations and community involvement. Platform tents were replaced with cabins an 8 bedroom building was constructed and two pieces of adjoining land were purchased (which included a house that was remodeled for staff housing) enabling the construction of a maintenance facility. In 1997 the organization completed construction on Sweeney Lodge an $800000 facility that included new kitchen dining hall and bathroom facilities. In 1996 program registration reached an all time organizational record with 1530 participants for the summer.
During the 2000’s- present CYC has established itself as a premier resident camp as well as Minnesota’s only Catholic resident camp. CYC offers programming for youth 7-17 years old and continues the work Father Jack Sweeney began in 1946.