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80-acre camp gifted to Diocese becomes Camp St. John Paul II

Those who would like to donate labor or items to the camp are welcome to contact Bill Green at 208-392-8157.

The following story appeared in the September 9 Idaho Catholic Register.

Camp St. John Paul II, formerly Camp Cascade, was gifted to the Diocese by a generous, anonymous donor. The sale closed on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in June, making it the first campground to officially belong to the Diocese of Boise. Repairs and renovations have been ongoing at the camp since late June. (ICR photo/Vero Gutierrez)

By Gene Fadness


CASCADE – The news that the Nazareth Retreat Center in the middle of Boise was closing to make way for a monastery was bittersweet for Bill Green and Mike Fretwell. The two chefs had become well known at the retreat center, keeping the kitchen functioning with its Grab-n-Go meals even when the pandemic had temporarily ended the retreats that were the lifeblood of the center.

“Obviously, we were thrilled that the monastery was coming in,” said Green of Verbum Spei’s Monastery of Our Lady of Ephesus. But, he couldn’t help but wonder what would happen to him and Fretwell and, more importantly, to the previously homeless people – including Fretwell and his mother – that the Diocese had housed there in apartments made available after COVID forced the cancellation of retreats.

“The Diocese never walked away from us,” Green said. “When Christian Welp (director of Diocesen Projects) gave us the bad news that we were going to be done, he wasn’t firing us. He said they were going to give it three months to see what transpired.”

“God bless the Bishop for working us with as long as he did,” Fretwell said, because perhaps even the Bishop may not have imagined what was around the corner – and up Highway 55 about 70 miles – for the two chefs, who have been friends and colleagues for 35 years.

Shortly after the Nazareth closure was announced, a generous, anonymous donor decided to gift the Diocese an 80-acre camp just south of Cascade, complete with its 25 cabins, chapel and dining hall. The property transfer – valued at just under $2 million – closed in late June. Camp Cascade is now Camp St. John Paul II. Bill Green is camp director and Mike Fretwell is the chef.

Fretwell, who miraculously survived a heart attack just five months ago, has moved near the camp, working there full-time to keep watch over the property during the winter months when it is closed. Green will stay put at Nazareth Retreat Center because he is the chef at nearby St. Ignatius Catholic School during the week and continues to take care of the non-monastic guests at the monastery. (The closing of Nazareth and the arrival of the Verbum Spei brothers did not mean that the previously homeless people would be evicted. Father Dominique Faure, prior of the monastery, wouldn’t have it any other way as far their non-monastic guests are concerned. According to Green, Father Dominique told them, “Of course you stay. You are like our furniture. We don’t want to get rid of you. You are not worn out.” Green adds, “Now I have the opportunity to live at a monastery. What a blessing!”) As soon as school gets out on Friday, Green returns to Cascade to join Fretwell and a number of volunteers to ready the camp for guests.

Rachel’s Vineyard (a retreat for women and men recovering from the trauma of abortion) and five “cleaning retreats” have already been held at the camp, Green said. During the cleaning retreats, guests are able to stay for free by donating part of their time to the many tasks of getting the camp ready for a busy first full season next year.

Chef Bill Green admires a piece of “tramp art” donated to Camp St. John Paul II. The art-work is just above the fire place in the dining hall. (ICR photo/Gene Fadness)

Green plans to use that concept of discounted stays for retreatants if they agree to help maintain the camp. “It makes them realize that this is our camp and we have to support this so it will at least break even and not become a financial burden for the Diocese.”

DUE TO COVID, the camp has been dormant for four summers, allowing time for squirrels, raccoons, skunks and an “owl with a five-foot wing span,” according to Green, to take over. Weeds and brush have grown over previously groomed trails, camp-grounds and RV parking spots. Termites have invaded some of the buildings, restrooms and pews in the 250-seat chapel.

When this reporter arrived on a Saturday afternoon, Green was applying a fresh coat of paint to one of the restrooms and Fretwell was using a large mower, weed eater and pole saw to clear out walking paths and campsites. Fortunately, all of the cabins have metal roofs, preserving their longevity against lack of use and Valley County’s sometimes harsh winters.

Before COVID hit, the camp was used by a number of groups, including Catholics from around the state who created Idaho Family Camp.

The previous owner of the camp was the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, now called the Community of Christ. The first cabins were built in about 1965 and more cabins were added as the camp grew, creating a lower and upper campground. Men’s and women’s restrooms with indoor plumbing were built in both the lower and upper campground, with six shower stalls in both men’s and both women’s restrooms for a total of 12 men’s showers and 12 women’s showers.

Families who returned to the camp annually paid for the use of their own cabins, naming them and paying to upgrade them to fit their needs. One of the larger cabins that can sleep up to 12 has a screened in porch. “You can tell which families had a little more money to spend by what they’ve done with the cabins,” Fretwell said.

Long before it was an RLDS Church camp, it was the small town of Alpha that had been largely destroyed by a fire. Green, an antique collector and garage sale aficionado, happened on to the original plats for the town of Alpha while at a garage sale in Cascade not long after the Diocese acquired the camp. “There was this table of paperwork for Alpha for the turn of the century to the early 1920s. It was a ‘God moment’ for me,” he said.

From the time the Diocese closed on the property near the end of June, Green and Fretwell had slightly more than a month to work at the camp full-time before school opened at St. Ignatius. The duo, with the help of volunteers, some from the former Nazareth Retreat Center community and others from the “Holy Conversations” group at St. Mary’s and Sacred Heart parishes in Boise, have done a lot of work in a short amount of time, though much remains to be done. Cabins need cleaning and re-painting. All but about five cabins are ready for campers, according to Green.

Much of the work in the large commercial kitchen in the dining hall was completed last week, stocked with cookware and dishes. The kitchen is equipped with both electric and older propane stoves. Green wants varnish applied to the kitchen tables and benches and a coat of paint in both the kitchen and dining room. He wants to leave one of the walls in its original rustic appearance to give it that camping lodge look. “I can’t stress enough what this looked like when we walked in,” Green said of the kitchen and dining hall.

GREEN, FRETWELL and others have a vision for what they would still like to accomplish by next spring. Green wants 12 walking paths -- some which are logging trails -- to lead to a knoll where a Mary statue with a 12-star crown will be placed. They hope to have a statue of St. John Paul II for whom the camp is named at the entrance of the camp. RV camping areas need to be cleared and upgraded to accommodate the higher voltage outlets needed for modern RVs. Green wants a picnic area with hanging lights.

Father Bruno Segatta, a priest in the diocese known for his paintings, will create the Stations of the Cross in the chapel. A Sacred Heart parishioner is building the large cross that will be behind the altar, and a generous donor is having the corpus for the cross carved in Italy. Father Caleb Vogel, vicar general for the Diocese, is finding other liturgical items for the chapel from other churches in the Diocese.

Green wants stained glass windows and two French doors (windows with glass in them) at both main entrances of what will become Our Lady of the Woods Chapel. “I want it to catch the morning light,” said Green of the chapel that currently does not have windows nor any of the accoutrements that one would find in a chapel.

Some of the items, like the painting of Mary that hangs above the fireplace mantle comes from the former Nazareth Retreat Center. “I kept that even though I had no idea what I would be using it for.” He got the painting from Father Tom Loucks. Green said the painting is “tramp art,” created by “hobos” who used to ride in rail cars, make the art and then sell it to churches and families along the railroad.

The Holy Conversations group is asking for people to donate wall crosses to be put in all the cabins and at other places throughout the camp. The crosses can be taken to St. Mary’s Parish or Sacred Heart Parish in Boise for collection.

Green is also praying for a larger donation: a four-wheeler or a golf cart to help transport him and Fretwell around the 80-acre campsite.

Those who want to donate items or labor can contact Green at 208-392-8157.

Bookings are already coming in for next year. Six events are planned so far, including both the diocesan junior high and senior high leadership camps as well as a large family reunion.

Suzanna Tillotson, a parishioner at Sacred Heart Parish, is one of the first volunteers to work and relax at the camp.

“I’m just grateful that this generous person had the vision to gift us this camp,” Tillotson said. “It’s a place of peace and safety for the people to come and have the Holy Spirit come alive. This camp is for all of our people, our youths. We hope to pack it in from May to October with retreats and family reunions.”

Green loves every minute he can spare to get to the camp, even if it means a lot of hard work.

“We want to make this a totally different world, so that people can get away to focus on Jesus and Mary,” Green said.

Planning for the camp seems to come bit by bit, fitting together almost miraculously. “It’s almost like a mighty wind coming through here, there’s just so much power,” Green said.

Above is one of the largest of the 25 cabins at Camp St. John Paul II on Alpha Road about three miles south of Cascade. The cabin sleeps 12 on two levels and includes a screened-in porch(ICR photo/Vero Gutierrez).

Above is the chapel, which can seat up to 250. Volunteers are donating a crucifix (ICR photo/Vero Gutierrez).

Above is the main campfire area which was recently cleared (ICR photo/Vero Gutierrez).

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it, please consider buying a subscription to the Idaho Catholic Register. Your $20 yearly subscription also supports the work of the Diocese of Boise Communications Department, which includes not only the newspaper, but this website, social media posts and videos. You can subscribe here, or through your parish, or send a check to 1501 S. Federal Way, Boise, ID, 83705: or call 208-350-7554 to leave a credit card payment. Thank you, and God bless you.



A newfound faith, a reunion with an old friend and the fulfillment of a childhood dream give Mike Fretwell a new lease on life.

Mike Fretwell is in his element: a large commercial kitchen from which he hopes to serve hundreds of campers at Camp St. John Paul II near Cascade. Fretwell, the father of two now-adult children, survived a dozen stab wounds as a young man and, later, a heart attack. Spending all his days at the camp recently donated to the Diocese of Boise, he believes God has spared his life so that he can fulfill a childhood dream of being a camp chef. (ICR photo/Gene Fadness)

By Gene Fadness


CASCADE – Mike Fretwell, who owns his own landscaping company, was laying brick pavers when he started to feel dizzy. His breathing was labored, a sharp pain burning in his chest.

He went inside to tell his longtime companion, Carleeta, “I think I’m going to die tonight.”

The doctors thought so too. They contacted his best friend and fellow chef, Bill Green. Green, in turn, contacted Father Tom Keller and asked him to get to Boise as soon as possible.

“I wanted him to pray for him and give him last rites,” Green said. “The doctors told me there was a less than 10 percent chance he would make it through the night.”

Father Keller did more than pray for him. He baptized him. Even before the heart attack, Fretwell was planning on taking RCIA classes to become Catholic. As a sous-chef (assistant) to Chef Bill Green at the former Nazareth Re-treat Center, he had become attached to his fellow workers and noticed the many Catholic communities that came to the center on retreat. “I wanted what they had. They became my mentors.”

The heart attack gave him a short route to baptism – though he still plans on taking RCIA this fall – and a new lease on life, at age 50.

“The heart attack was the best thing that could have happened to me.” He went home five days after the attack and threw out all the methamphetamines, other drugs and alcohol that were sapping the life out of him. “The doctors told me that if I took meth or any of that just once more, I would be dead. I could tell by the looks on their faces that they were serious.”

IT WAS NOT ONLY the heart at-tack that gave him a fresh start, but, just a few months later, an 80-acre wooded area south of Cascade, now known as Camp St. John Paul II where Fretwell will become the chef. “I can’t believe this is happening to me! I always knew there was something out there for me, and this is it.”

His heart is full, even if only at 25 percent capacity. If it doesn’t improve, he may have to get a pacemaker. A life of drugs and alcohol makes a trans-plant impossible.

Fretwell spends as much time working at the camp as possible. “When I get tired, I rest. Carleeta makes sure of that.” If his life should end while he’s clearing brush at the camp, he’s OK with that. “I couldn’t think of a better way to go.”

He has had other brushes with death during what has not been an easy life.

Born in Caldwell, he started working in kitchens while in high school. “I dreamed of being a chef. I would cook Sunday dinners for my mom, dress up and everything.” He also wanted to be a kickboxer.

He trained under Chef John R. Fisher at the former Statehouse Inn and later under Chef Lou Aaron, now a deacon at Our Lady of the Rosary, and Chef Bill Green.

After graduating from Boise High School in 1991, he spent the next two years at an apprenticeship program for chefs. An opportunity came to co-own a restaurant with his father in Winnemucca, Nev. When that business didn’t work, he spent a year at fairs, cooking at food booths. He returned to Boise, laying carpet and installing vinyl flooring.

When he was 23 and living in an apartment near downtown Boise, his mother said she was coming for a visit and would be spending the night. “I wasn’t expecting that. It was my sister’s birthday but mom said, “You need me tonight.’ ”

He answered, to his regret, a late night knock on his door. A man he had never seen before burst into the apartment and started stabbing him. Fretwell’s mother jumped on the at-tacker who then turned on her, stabbing her as well. By the time he fled the apartment when he heard police sirens, the intruder had stabbed Fretwell 12 times and his mother three times. Both his lungs were collapsed, and he had punctured one of her lungs as well.

Both were rushed to the hospital where Fretwell was later told he “died” three times on the operating table, each time the doctors were able to resuscitate him. His mother also survived. “She saved my life,” Fretwell said.

One of the first people to be called when Fretwell was in surgery was his friend and former work companion, Bill Green. “He was so bad off they wouldn’t let me see him,” Green said.

Green still marvels that his friend survived. “The Lord has always had Mike in his hands.”

THE VIOLENT assault did not change Mike’s hard lifestyle. “In fact, it made me worse. I was angry and bitter that one of my dreams – to be a kickboxer,” ended the night of the stabbing.

He continued to work as a chef and after a few years apart from Chef Bill Green, the two merged their kitchen and business acumen to start a catering business called Little Focaccia’s named after the restaurant that Green owned on Parkcenter Boulevard. Fretwell was clean from drugs and alcohol during the 12 years he worked with Green at the catering business.

It was not long after that the two friends had another brush with death, but this time it was Fretwell responding to a crisis in Green’s life.

Green’s wife, Sandy, was diagnosed with a brain cancer in 2006, just two months after he had opened Focaccia’s. In 2012, she suffered a stroke. Green gave up the restaurant to take care of his wife full-time, the two living off the proceeds from the sale of antiques that he would collect, restore and sell at garage sales.

Fretwell stayed at Green’s side even though the two were no longer working together. “When Sandy was bedridden, Mike would come by with soup, baked goods and fresh vegetables,” Green said. “That’s what a true friend is, and they’re hard to find.”

“I’ve given him a few gray hairs, so we are like family,” Fretwell says.

Sandy died in 2015, after which Green suffered a deep depression. He shut the curtains in his otherwise bright North End home and went to bed. Fretwell would have none of that. Then the sous-chef at Nazareth Re-treat Center, Fretwell got Green out of bed and helped him land a job at Big City Coffee at the Boise Airport. Not long after that, Green suffered his own heart attack. After he recovered, he was hired as the chef at Grace Assisted Living and then at Nazareth Retreat Center. The two were a team again.

ONCE AGAIN, however, their livelihood became uncertain with the news that Nazareth Retreat Center, in deep financial straits exacerbated by the COVID pandemic, would be closing.

“I got to the point where I was really missing the people at Nazareth,” Fretwell said. “I grew up using drugs and alcohol. I never went to prison, but I should have. It was Chef Bill and the people at Nazareth that helped me get my life back on track.”

Green worried about his lifelong friend, fearing a return to his former lifestyle. He went to the Idaho Catholic Men’s Conference and placed his cross on a first-class relic of St. Padre Pio. “I brought back the cross for Mike and, all of a sudden, he started to change,” Green said.

Still angry about the attack, Deacon Joe Rodriguez asked Fretwell if he had forgiven his attacker from the stabbing more than two decades past. The attacker was an escapee from San Quentin Prison where he was serving time for stabbing his sister and is now serving a life sentence in Boise with no chance of parole. “I realized I hadn’t forgiven him. Deacon Joe said, ‘Let’s do it right now.’ So we prayed, and I forgave him, and I felt a huge burden lift. I still get goose bumps just thinking about it.”

IT WAS NOT LONG afterward that Fretwell got an offer to be the chef at Camp Rainbow Gold, a camp for cancer victims and their families. He was excited to take the job. “Even as a little kid, I always dreamed of working at a camp.”

But just a few days later, he got a call from Green. “We’ve got a Catholic camp,” Green told him. Fretwell didn’t hestitate: “I’m in!”

For the third time, the team was back together.

The camp, like his companions at Nazareth, continues to be a training ground for Fretwell’s newfound faith. “Mike is a Catholic sponge,” Green says. “You can feel the purity of his heart,” a heart that physically is weak, but spiritually grows stronger by the day.

Green laughs as he recalls the night when Fretwell came running excitedly from his cabin in nothing but his underwear after finding a Sacred Heart medal under his bed.

“The Lord brought me here for a reason, and now it’s all starting to fall in place,” Fretwell says. “I feel like my life is just now beginning.”

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it, please consider buying a subscription to the Idaho Catholic Register. Your $20 yearly subscription also supports the work of the Diocese of Boise Communications Department, which includes not only the newspaper, but this website, social media posts and videos. You can subscribe here, or through your parish, or send a check to 1501 S. Federal Way, Boise, ID, 83705: or call 208-350-7554 to leave a credit card payment. Thank you, and God bless you.

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Diocesan Pastoral Center

FAX: (208) 342-0224

1501 S. FEDERAL WAY, SUITE 400, BOISE, ID 83705

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