Jim Graves is a Catholic writer and editor living in Newport Beach, California. He previously served as Managing Editor for the Diocese of Orange Bulletin, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Orange, California. His work has appeared in the National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, Cal Catholic Daily and Catholic World Report.
In 2008, a group of lay Catholics founded Fraternus, an apostolate which provides boys with adult male mentorship to help them grow into mature, virtuous Catholic men; four years later, Fidelis — a counterpart group for girls — was launched in a pilot program at Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Bremerton, Washington. Fidelis is a parish-based ministry run by lay Catholic women volunteers, and is a “sisterhood of women, young and old, leading each other to Christ … rooted in virtue and the richness of the Catholic faith.”
Activities include weekly meetings which include the discussion of a particular virtue, weekend excursions or retreats, and a weeklong outdoor adventure known as “Inspire.” Fidelis currently has chapters in nine parishes in five states, and serves several hundred Catholic girls. The organization’s new national director, Priscilla McKinney, is looking to grow the ministry.
Jason Craig, Vice President of Program for Fraternus, noted that Fidelis was launched as parishioners saw the success of Fraternus and “how important and valuable it was to have gender specific formation during adolescence, so, naturally, people were asking for a girls program.”
Getting the project off the ground was difficult, he said, because “girls aren’t boys.” He explained, “We thought we could just import Fraternus' ways and substitute women and girls, but that didn't work.”
Boys are in need of fathers and fatherly mentors, he explained, “but it does not mean that girls need mothers and motherly mentors in an equal way, because they get plenty of time with women. We found instead the greater need was for sisterhood and friendship.”
The messages the culture sends to girls is just as “crazy and convoluted” as it is for boys, he noted, “but those messages are very different.” He continued, “Just attending to them in separate settings and in different ways gives reverence and respect to the difference and complementarity of the sexes, and it’s encouraging to see how fruitful mentorship is in each setting.”
Wanted to Grow in Faith
Olivia Shingledecker, 17, has been a member of the Fidelis group at St. Mark Church in Huntersville, North Carolina, for three years. Ninety girls participate in her Fidelis chapter, both middle and high school level. She said, “I joined Fidelis because I wanted to grow in faith with other young women my age; Fidelis gives us a beautiful atmosphere for us to do that in. It can be hard to find that connection elsewhere.”
Olivia’s favorite part of the apostolate is the weekly small group sharing, which gives her the opportunity to develop relationships with other girls, ask one other “deep” questions, talk about their lives and have fun. Participation in the weekly groups, as well as the overall Fidelis apostolate, has “opened my eyes to see how I should be living out the virtues in practical ways in my day-to-day life.”
She continued, “It is so important that women of all ages come together and learn from one another, united in a Catholic sisterhood.”
Olivia’s involvement in Fidelity has also helped her in a YouTube apostolate she has launched, Catholic Girl Talk.
Establishing a Chapter
Fidelis serves girls grades 6-12. Establishing a chapter at a particular parish begins with securing approval of the pastor, and recruiting a group of female adult Catholic volunteers. Contact Fidelis through their website for training and materials. The organization’s national director, Priscilla McKinney, welcomes inquiries about establishing chapters, as well as donors to fund the organization’s work.