Leaders hope for resurgence of Catholic scouting

SPARTANBURG — Boy Scouts learn to live in the wild, be self-reliant and tie square knots. They help old ladies cross the street and they practice to be good citizens. What does all this have to do with the Catholic Church?

“Scouts pledge that ‘…on my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God.’ This is the essence of the Boy Scouts. This is what the Boy Scouts do,” Father David F. Michael told a large crowd at Jesus, Our Risen Savior Church on Feb. 10.

Father Michael is the diocesan Scout Chaplain and he was in Spartanburg to help Bishop Robert J. Baker award Catholic emblems to a dozen boys of the parish and two adults. He said that there is a 40-year relationship between the Church and the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and that the foundational principals of scouting have much the same objectives as other youth ministries in the Catholic Church.

“We want to develop boys into principled citizens who recognize their allegiance to God,” the priest said. “There are 43 troops, packs and venture crews under Catholic auspices in South Carolina.”

Some of these BSA units are sponsored by Knights of Columbus councils and some by parishes and other Catholic organizations, but even scouts who are in groups sponsored by a non-Catholic group may work for Catholic awards. There are two national Catholic awards for Cub Scouts (the Light of Christ and the Parvuli Dei) and two for Boy Scouts (Ad Altare Dei and the Pope Pius XII Award). All are awarded by the ordinary of the scout’s diocese, and none is easy to attain. A fifth Catholic religious emblem is the International Awareness Activity Award, which is granted by the pope.

“It was a lot of work,” said Gregory Peacock, 12, who earned the Ad Altare Dei award. He said he learned about the sacraments and did service work for the Church and the community.

It takes six months for a Scout to earn the Ad Altare Dei and five for more advanced Scouts to earn the Pius XII, according to Jim Hansen, an Upstate troop master who was presented the St. George medal by Bishop Baker. The bishop told the crowd that he was a Scout himself as a youth.

The National Catholic Committee on Scouting, an advisory group to the BSA, states on its Web site that the St. George emblem may be awarded to “members of the laity or clergy, Scouters and non-Scouters alike, who have made significant and outstanding contributions to the spiritual development of Catholic youth through Scouting.” Hansen works with scouting, he said, because it’s good for boys.

“I got a lot out of it when I was a kid,” the veteran leader said. “A lot of that good comes from the parents, who are involved in this church.”

Father Michael had high praise for Hansen and talked about the nomination process for BSA awards. Nomination information for both the Brown Pelican and the St. George awards can be found on www.bsachaplain.com, the scouting Web site of the diocese. Father Michael himself received the Brown Pelican award for outstanding service.

Stefan Zollinger, a tenth-grader who became an Eagle Scout on Feb. 13, said that scouting brings out the best in Catholic youth.

“It teaches young kids and teens how to have more Catholicism in their lives and how to establish strong principles based on the tenets of the Catholic Church,” Zollinger said.

Zollinger was awarded the Pope Pius XII emblem, along with Daniel d’Entremont, Andrew Fryml, Nicholas Hannouche and Ben Weiskircher. Those five high schoolers also earned the International Awareness Activity Award.

Recipients of the Ad Altare Dei were Peacock, Charles Crisp, Ronnie Crisp, Daniel Landry and Jacob Webb. Ben Peacock earned the Parvuli Dei emblem.

A member of the Palmetto Council, one of five BSA administrative units in the state, said that Catholic Scouters are working toward a resurgence of the Catholic part of the scouting program.

“We’re hoping to resurrect Catholic scouting in the state and get the Catholic program going again,” said Jim Weiskircher, “because, to us Catholics, the religious awards are even more important than the Eagle Scout badge. The Pius XII candidates, for instance, had to work on vocations as part of their emblem effort.”

In ways such as that, Weiskircher said, scouting and Catholicism are mutually beneficial.