Catholics concerned about recent policy changes by the Boy Scouts of America may want to investigate some of the strong Catholic groups for boys and young men. These organizations provide opportunities for outdoor adventure, combining recreational activities with faith-based opportunities to learn about Catholicism and to grow closer to God.
The Troops of St. George
The Troops of St. George, an outdoor adventure apostolate with more than 40 troops nationwide, was founded by Taylor Marshall, Catholic convert, best-selling author and father of eight, in 2013. “I wanted to establish a thoroughly Catholic organization for boys,” Marshall explained to the Register, “one that taught virtue, honor and brotherhood, but in a way that incorporated the example of Catholic vocations: married fathers and Catholic priests and deacons.”
Not just an outdoor camping experience, the Troops of St. George seek to foster love for Jesus Christ and his Church. They do things that young men (as well as older men) enjoy — such as archery, rock climbing, hiking, skiing, motorboating, trapping, kayaking and mountain biking. But in addition, junior cadets (boys from first through fifth grade) and senior cadets (sixth through 12th grade), accompanied by their fathers, participate in monthly campouts under the stars, which include Mass, the Angelus and a Rosary around the campfire.
The cadets’ achievements at the campground are bona fide survival skills, modeled on the achievements of Catholic saints such as St. George, who was a soldier, virgin and martyr. As an example, Marshall explained that campfires may not be started with matches or lighters; all fires must be lit by flint and steel or friction bows. There is an emphasis on spiritual asceticism and mental toughness. Fathers and sons go on day-long hikes, cooking their own meals and building towers.
One thing that distinguishes the Troops of St. George is their requirement that a priest be attached to each and every troop. “We believe,” said Marshall, “that a Catholic priest provides the proper tone and direction for each Troop of St. George.” As boys hang out around the campfire with their fathers and their priest, they can ask questions about the priesthood and can learn firsthand what clergy really do.
More information about the Troops of St. George is available at the organization’s website, TroopsofSaintGeorge.org. There is also a starter packet at the website for fathers who are interested in organizing a troop in their own parish and another starter packet for priests.
Founded in 1998, Kepha takes its name from the Greek word for “rock.” Kepha members practice brotherhood via monthly retreats, shared daily prayers and a commitment to five anchors: “Apologetics,” “Brotherhood,” “Charity,” “Mortification” and “Prayer.” They claim three patrons, whom they refer to as the “Big Three”: St. John Bosco, St. Teresa of Calcutta and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. In Kepha, boys and their fathers always participate together, bringing them closer together in fellowship and faith.
Andrew Smith is Kepha’s state director, responsible for establishing chapters in the states of Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. Smith spoke with the Register about the organization’s activities:
“There are no regular meetings, but chapters hold monthly retreats, and every few months they have a full weekend retreat. At the retreats, fathers and sons rise at 2am to pray before the Blessed Sacrament in what’s called ‘Yawns for Christ.’ They practice mortification, another of the organization’s pillars, by taking cold showers.
“Kepha members have the opportunity to serve, as well: One day each month, we volunteer at a pregnancy-help center; we pray at an abortion clinic; visit nursing homes and hospitals; serve food to the hungry.”
Smith emphasized that the commitments that are required of Kepha’s members are sometimes difficult, but that the bond between fathers and sons is strengthened. The fathers also appreciate the new friendships with other men who want to grow in faith and to foster virtue in their sons. For more information about Kepha, visit the website KephaRocks.com.
The Columbian Squires, the “junior” division of the Knights of Columbus, is intended for young men ages 10 through 18. There are more than 25,000 Squires around the world, in more than 1,500 circles throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Bahamas and Guam. The Squires involve young men in programs to benefit the Church and the community, as well as in recreational and social activities.
Squires are involved in promoting vocations, marching in defense of unborn life, feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, supporting Special Olympics and promoting Catholic education, among countless other activities. Thus the Squires circle is an athletic team, a youth group, a social club, a cultural and civic improvement association, a management-training course, a civil-rights organization and a spiritual development program all rolled into one.
For information on the Columbian Squires, visit the Knights of Columbus website at KofC.org/en/members/programs/youth-activities/columbian-squires.html#/.
The Frassati Society
For young adults who seek a fellowship experience founded on Christ, there is the Frassati Society. The nonprofit organization is patterned after the life of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, an Italian youth who was a member of the Third Order of St. Dominic. Blessed Pier Giorgio was only 24 years old when he died of poliomyelitis on July 4, 1925, but he was well known for his generosity and his strong faith. Across America and around the world, young adults find in the Frassati Society the opportunity for fellowship, recreation, service and spiritual formation. Together these young people serve the poor, oppose abortion, go on long hikes, devote time to prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, engage in Bible studies and travel on pilgrimages.
For more information on Frassati Society chapters across the United States, or to learn how to begin a chapter in your own area, check out the society’s website, https://FrassatiUSA.org/inside-the-us.