October 2, 2015
In light of current challenges, Catholics have an opportunity to rediscover the central role of faith in scouting, true to the ideals of its original founder. Programs such as Troops of St. George (TSG) and Federation of North American Explorers (FNE) provide opportunities to the live the Catholic faith in the midst of forming character in the outdoors.
Bishop Kagan recommended other options as well: Trail Life USA and Columbian Squires for boys; and for girls, Little Flowers and American Heritage Girls.
Two Mandan residents who are also Eagle Scouts, Ryan Norrell and Nate Swenson, sought another option outside of Boy Scouts of America for their boys and have begun forming a Troop of St. George for the Bismarck-Mandan area. Dr. Taylor Marshall founded the Troops of St. George in 2013 and the group has grown rapidly. In an interview, Marshall spoke of TSG not as a scouting group, but as a Catholic apostolate focusing on the “cultivation of the seven virtues in the context of outdoor adventure.”
Troops meet only to plan outings, which occur on average about once a month. Norrell and Swenson began forming their troop in the summer of 2014 and were drawn to TSG not only for its focus on faith, but also its emphasis on virtue and the strong role of fathers in the program. Marshall confirmed the central role of fathers saying, “As we watch TSG grow, we realize that it's all about boys and their fathers. These are the weekends and trips that will burn into our memories as we grow older.”
The Bismarck-Mandan Troop focuses on junior cadets for ages 6-10 (though TSG does offer a senior cadet program for ages 11-18 as well). At its first campouts, the troop participated in prayer, stories and skits around the fire, hiking, and fishing. Father Nick Schneider, Pastor of Christ the King Parish in Mandan, serves as the chaplain of the troop. Although TSG only organizes troops for boys, Norrell and Swenson stated their desire to find opportunities for families to participate in some activities. For more information on BisManTSG group, visit their website at www.bismantsg.wordpress.com.
Evolution of scouting
Robert Baden-Powell founded the scouting movement in 1907 by leading the first scout camp at Brownsea Island and writing his
Scouting for Boys the following year. Powell understood the importance of faith in scouting and the formation of character it seeks to instill, stating, “There is no religious ‘side’ of the movement. The whole of it is based on religion, that is, on the realization and service of God.”
With the formation of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) in 1910, troops formed quickly within Catholic parishes. Bishops began exercising guidance over Catholic scout troops, organizing special manuals and leader trainings, Catholic jamborees and outings, and a series of medals for Catholic scouts.
Policies bring about changes
The long relationship between the Church and BSA, however, was called into question, when in 2013 BSA began changing its policies in relation to homosexuality, first by allowing openly homosexual scouts. In July of 2015 the policy extended to leaders, causing the National Catholic Committee on Scouting to “express strong concern about the practical implications of this resolution, especially for our young people in Scouting.”
Bishop Kagan’s letter on BSA’s decision noted that a religious exemption “will provide no protection for any of our parishes and/or schools, which sponsor troops,” leading him to disaffiliate the Diocese of Bismarck from BSA. Catholic leaders recognize that Catholic Scouts are still very much needed. This sentiment resonates widely with many Catholic parents, but the changes in policy by the BSA have led to the search for alternative options for their children.
More options for parents and scouts
Ven. Jacques Sevin, whose cause for canonization has begun, brought scouting to France in 1920, creating an explicitly Catholic model. The Federation of European Scouting, based on his efforts, now has 55,000 members (both boys and girls) in 19 countries. It is becoming increasingly popular in the United States with the formation of the Federation of North American Explorers (FNE). FNE’s website explains its faith based approach, “FNE is a Catholic faith based youth program. The teachings and practices of our faith are interwoven into the overall program experience….We deliver a Christ-centered program experience where each member strives to become an Ordinary Saint.”
Fr. James Jackson, pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in Littleton, Colo., recently explained why his parish started a troop, “FNE draws upon a legacy of Catholic scouting, is well organized, was founded by a saint, has Pontifical Right, and our parents have expressed confidence in its methods. Our troop has grown quickly to become possibly the largest in the country.” Pontifical right refers to a group’s status as an “international association of the faithful” with direct approval and support from the Holy See.
Whatever the choice parents make for their children regarding scouting, it’s beneficial for Catholics to be aware of options that remain true to the ideals of Baden-Powell when he began the concept in the very early 1900s. Parents have quality options when looking for a God-centered scouting experience.