Diocese of Lake Charles
MOSS BLUFF — The youth ministry of the Diocese of Lake Charles will soon have a place to call home when Camp Karol Catholic Retreat Center opens on Saturday, April 25. The dedication and blessing for the youth camp is set for 10 a.m. with the Most Reverend Glen John Provost, Bishop of Lake Charles, presiding.
There are several retreats for 2020 already on the Camp Karol calendar, including Teen ACTS retreats, according to Deacon Brian Soileau, associate director of Saint Charles Center and Camp Karol.
“One of the first retreats is the week of June 1 for the Diocesan Youth Core Team. I think it is awesome that the core team (made up of high school students throughout the diocese) is one of the first scheduled,” said Deacon Soileau. “When it comes to the youth ministry of the diocese, those kids put a lot into that ministry.”
After the needs of diocesan groups have been met, The Lodge at Camp Karol will be open to others including church parish groups, vocation groups, and serve as an overflow facility when Saint Charles Center is booked. It will also be available to groups outside the Diocese of Lake Charles.
“Camp Karol is going to be busy,” Deacon Soileau said with enthusiasm. “I have already been contacted by the Diocese of Beaumont, the Diocese of Alexandria, a Baptist church has already booked some dates, and there’s another Baptist church that has visited with me.”
Opening day for The Lodge at Camp Karol will offer the public an opportunity to see first-hand this jewel of the diocese on more than 100 acres situated along the Calcasieu River between Saint Charles Center and St. Theodore Catholic Church.
The dedication will coincide with the 40th anniversary of the installation of Bishop Jude Speyrer, the first bishop for the Diocese of Lake Charles in 1980. It was under Bishop Speyrer’s leadership that the completion of Saint Charles Center was accomplished in November of 1994. In its 25th year of ministry, Saint Charles Center’s extension through Camp Karol allows for a broadening of programs with the young people of the diocese in mind.
“Our goal is to become a full summer camp where kids can spend a full week or a couple of weeks,” Soileau said, but noting that Camp Karol hasn’t quite reached that goal. “What we are capable of doing once construction is complete will be some weekend events. It won’t be full summer camp status just yet; some other things still need to happen first.
“While our primary focus is to be a youth camp, we also want to serve as a place where families can be involved, a place for them to come and experience Christ with their children,” Deacon Soileau emphasized.
One example is a program started in 2019 at Saint Charles Center with the intention of moving it to Camp Karol. Family Adoration Night will be kid-friendly with activities for the children while parents spend quiet time in adoration. Towards the end of the evening, the whole family will gather in the chapel for benediction.
The idea for a Catholic youth camp in Southwest Louisiana was initiated in 2005. After 10 years of independent effort, 89 acres of property known as Bear Island, along with its assets and equipment was donated to the Diocese of Lake Charles in November of 2015.
Bishop Provost placed the project under the direction of Father Whitney Miller, director of Saint Charles Center, and the vision evolved into Camp Karol with an additional 12 acres purchased by the Diocese.
The project of Camp Karol became one of the goals of the Return to the Lord Capital Campaign conducted by the Diocese in 2016. Fundraising efforts continue for other projects at the camp including bungalows to house a total of 144 overnight guests.
“The first six bungalows are under construction with hopes that they will be finished by June, weather permitting” said Deacon Soileau. “Each set of six bungalows will be able to house 72 guests, complete with bathroom/shower facilities. Until the second set of six bungalows is complete, we will use Saint Katharine Drexel Conference Center dormitory at Saint Charles Center for any overflow of guests.”
Bear Island will serve as the activity center of Camp Karol, but in order to gain access to the island, a boardwalk will need to be built across the swamp. It will take a lot of people to contribute, said Deacon Soileau, not just monetarily, but their time, their talent, and their ideas.
“On opening day, when people can go out and see what Camp Karol is all about, what is out there and see the beauty of it for themselves, then whatever else is needed to complete the project, I am confident people will donate what is necessary,” Soileau said.
“We still have to build the boardwalk and set up Bear Island as the activity center for the camp. We want to have activities like a ropes course, a rock climb, a zip-line for kids, Stations of the Cross in the swamp that can be accessed by pirogues, and hopefully develop an area to have campouts with tents. All of this will take funding.
“We want to leave the island as much in its natural habitat without clearing more than necessary,” Soileau said when describing the backdrop for young people to grow in their relationship with God.
The mission for Camp Karol is to provide a serene environment for Catholic youth of the Diocese of Lake Charles to seek Christ, live Catholic, build community, and ignite the world.
The significance of the name is that Camp Karol honors Saint John Paul II whose baptismal name was Karol Wojtyla. “In Polish, his native language, Karol means Charles, underscoring the strong link Camp Karol has to Saint Charles Retreat Center,” said Deacon Soileau.
“We will be and have been putting a lot of thought into the papacy of John Paul II for the functioning of Camp Karol as well as the decor because it is his namesake,” he said.
The camp also adopted the motto for Saint John Paul II’s papacy, Totus Tuus: Totally Yours.
“The world is pulling and tugging on the youth to give themselves over to the world,” Soileau said. “They have to learn to give themselves totally to Christ instead. That is where the truth is. That is where real life is. They can’t accomplish that, nor can Camp Karol accomplish its mission, unless we all give ourselves over totally to Christ.”
Bishop Provost requested from Rome and has obtained a first-class relic of Saint John Paul II’s hair to be permanently housed in the chapel.
Deacon Soileau still remembers the powerful impact of being in the presence of Pope John Paul II.
“I saw him as a youth at the (New Orleans) Superdome. That was a life-changing experience for me,” he said. “I am hoping his presence at Camp Karol will be strong. His physical presence to young people, it just can’t be explained, so we want to have a physical part with this relic on site for the kids to venerate.”
Another way to honor the memory of the revered saint is through a group of 20 men called the Fraternity of Saint John Paul II. Their role will be like spiritual fathers of the young people attending Camp Karol to be in prayer for the youth, pray rosaries, the Divine Mercy chaplet, as well as spend time in adoration. They will also take on special projects at the camp.
In addition to men of the fraternity, Deacon Soileau said there are already more than 60 volunteers signed up to work at the camp. The Camp Karol Training and Staff Development Committee completed three training days for volunteers on Jan. 28, Feb. 4 and Feb. 11.
Volunteers are also being sought for a Camp Karol youth choir to perform at the dedication on April 25.
For more information on ways contribute to the ongoing project of Camp Karol or to make reservations, please call Deacon Brian Soileau, associate director, at 337-855-1232, ext. 201. Also, visit www.stcharlescenter.com.