Diocese of Lake Charles
MOSS BLUFF — The infectious love Pope Saint John Paul II had for the youth during his nearly 27-year papacy will live on through a Catholic youth camp in the Diocese of Lake Charles.
What started out as a vision by Moss Bluff native David Grove and his late wife Tammy (Duhon) to help young people grow in their faith, became a reality when Camp Karol Catholic Retreat Center was dedicated on Saturday, October 23, 2021.
The Mass and Blessing was officiated by the Most Reverend Glen John Provost, Bishop of Lake Charles. He was assisted by Deacon Brian Soileau, director of the youth facility and Saint Charles Center, also in Moss Bluff.
Camp Karol is named in honor of Saint John Paul II whose birth name was Karol Wojtyla. In Polish, his native language, Karol means Charles, which underscores the strong link Camp Karol has to Saint Charles Center.
Grove, who was present at the dedication, wants people to know that you can never outdo God.
“I worked a lot of youth camps over the years through Legionaries of Christ,” he recalled. “When I would go to the camps, I somehow knew this (Camp Karol) was going to happen one day. I hunted, fished, and trapped on this land almost every day with 10 other guys. I told Andy Sonnier that Bear Island would be a great place for a youth camp.”
Grove said he tries to live by Saint John Paul II’s first words as pope: Be not afraid. “It was a big leap of faith when I purchased the property,” he said. “It was the only mortgage I ever had in my life.”
After 10 years of independent effort, 89 acres of Bear Island, along with its assets and equipment was donated to the Diocese of Lake Charles in November of 2015. The vision evolved into Camp Karol with an additional 12 acres purchased by the Diocese to build bungalows for overnight retreatants.
“The project of Camp Karol eventually became one of the goals of the Return to the Lord Capital Campaign conducted by the Diocese in 2016,” said Bishop Provost. “We are grateful to Camp Karol Inc. for their generosity, leadership, vision, and cooperation. It is due to their incentive and the incentive of so many others during the Capital Campaign that we were able to build what we have here today.”
Situated on more than 100 acres along the Calcasieu River between Saint Charles Center and St. Theodore Catholic Church, Camp Karol allows for a broadening of programs with the young people of the Diocese in mind.
“When I came to the Diocese in 2007, more than a few approached me with a request saying that the Diocese of Lake Charles needed a youth camp,” said Bishop Provost. “Without this facility, they had to book events and camps further north and sometimes outside the Diocese.”
The bishop noted that the inspiration of Camp Karol is the result of the genius of Saint John Paul II, a great visionary for whom evangelization was so important.
“As a bishop, I have stopped counting the number of priests ordained in the 80’s, 90’s, and the first decade of the new Millennium who have said the following to me: I am a priest today because of Pope Saint John Paul II,” he said. “The youth sensed his love for them, and his ability to communicate to them was electric.”
During Mass, Bishop Provost blessed the reliquary holding a first-class relic of Pope Saint John Paul II. A first-class relic is something from the body of a saint and can only be requested by a bishop. This relic is a cutting from his hair and is permanently housed in the chapel of the Lodge at Camp Karol in a reliquary resembling leaves.
A life-long outdoorsman and athlete, as a parish priest Karol Wojtyla was known for taking young people on hiking retreats, and for his love of kayaking and skiing.
“While I was in Rome, I had the chance to go to some very fine craftsmen called the Savi brothers,” the bishop said. “I found this custom-made reliquary that looks like something you would see in the woods around here. It is quite appropriate to have the foliage embracing and holding the first-class relic of Pope Saint John Paul II.”
Bishop Provost expressed his appreciation to Deacon Brian Soileau and his staff as well as Father Whitney Miller who served as the previous director of Saint Charles Center and helped with much of the design of Camp Karol. Special thanks were given to the membership of Camp Karol Inc.; contractors, James and Alfred Palma; architects, Stephen C. Hotard and Bridget V. Evans; and project manager, Therese Bourque.
In his closing remarks, Bishop Provost asked for the intercession of Pope Saint John Paul II for the success of every activity that will take place on the grounds and in the buildings of Camp Karol.
“May the youth who come here be inspired and never be afraid, but with courage enter the world to meet its challenges,” he said. “It is our prayer that Camp Karol will offer a home to the youth of our diocese and others who will use these facilities. We pray that they will draw closer to Christ and to His Church.”
For more information on ways to contribute to Camp Karol or to make reservations, please call Deacon Brian Soileau, director, at 337-855-1232. Camp Karol is located at 1087 Bozo Road.