Catholic Scouting Movement ‒Amid Mountains and Ocean

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The Society of Ignatians will create and spread a new Catholic Scouting movement rooted in the ethos of the chivalry of Christendom and do all in its power to encourage existing Catholic Scout associations.

For Scouting is a magnificent way to form young Catholics of excellence.

This is because, historically, Scouting is rooted in Catholicism through the spirit of Christendom’s chivalry.  As the author of Heroism and Genius states:

One of those whose curiosity was sparked by Sir Walter Scott (author of Ivanhoe) was Kenelm Henry Digby (1800–1880), the author of The Broad Stone of Honour.[1] Someone remarked that to read his book was to sense that the author “identifies himself as few have ever done with the good and great and heroic and holy in former times, and ever rejoices in passing out of himself into them”. Indeed, Kenelm, raised a staunch Protestant, converted at twenty-five years of age to the Catholic Church largely because he had met her as he came to know chivalry during his studies at Cambridge University.

Digby came to realize that the ethos of chivalry offered a way to help resolve a burning need of Charles Dickens’ nineteenth-century, largely de-Christianized England with its lack of a vibrant Christian social ideal and a program of deep character formation for men.

His work, The Broad Stone of Honour, certainly confirmed its author’s intuition, for it influenced millions of youth, not only in England but worldwide, since among those who recognized the pedagogical value of its chivalric principles was Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Scouting movement, who drew many of the Scout Laws from its pages.[2] (William J. Slattery, Heroism and Genius, Ignatius Press, 2017, p. 198-199)

Through Scouting’s chivalric ethos, Scouting spontaneously forms youth in a vibrant sense of masculine honor.

The Scout learns to measure his emerging manhood by the noblest of ideals for men; his word, promises, and oaths he stands by, no matter the cost; his alertness to the Enemy of man is constant; a combative spirit for the true, the noble and the beautiful, in self and in society, is in his bones; a builder of a new Christian civilization he aspires to be.

Ignatians will also organize its Scouting movement in such a way that it becomes a father-son movement. Thus, dads, who may not have had the benefits of Scouting in their youth, can spiritually deepen their own Christian life while enjoying the sight of their own son’s development.

Ignatian Scouting in the Footsteps of Baden Powell and  the Spiritual Son of St. Ignatius, Father Jacques Sevin

Catholic Scouting was born almost immediately after General Baden-Powell’s intuition had started the first English scout camp at Brownsea in 1907.

The most important of the early Catholic Scout founders was the French priest, a spiritual son of St. Ignatius, Jacques Sevin (1882-1951). Idealism had marked him since his childhood: “Once upon a time, as a teenager, I had this dream: to be a heroic and strong soul…”      

Father Jacques Sevin and General Baden-Powell met in 1913 and over the years they continued to exchange ideas by letter. Their mutual esteem is evident both in Father Sevin’s explanation of Scouting, Le Scoutisme, and in Baden-Powell’s extraordinary tribute, “The best fulfillment of my ideas is that which was done by a French religious.”

In 1918, Father Sevin consecrated the new Catholic Scouting movement he had founded to the Heart of Jesus Christ and held the first camp in the Ardennes  during the summer of 1919.

By bringing together the Scouting intuition with the Catholic vision of God, man and nature, he created a pedagogy for character-education.

For Father Jacques Sevin Scouting was chiefly a royal road to forming Christlike men.

Constantly he reminded his Scout leaders of this priority: “We only form what we are; therefore be then what we want others to be, that is, saints!” and “if you especially are not first of all deeply spiritual people, people passionate about Jesus Christ, you will not be able to transmit anything”.

The Scout Law and Promise was meant to lead youth to a personal commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Hence, prayer was vital: “No matter the type of activity, it must be prepared not only on the spot, or at the desk, but above all, at the prie-Dieu [kneeler] in prayer”.

He backed up his words with example. At the training center of Chamarande, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was part of the schedule.

As symbols for the Scouts de France Sevin chose the Cross of Jerusalem, thereby placing at the center Jesus Christ Crucified. He also adopted the fleur-de-lis [the lily], previously selected by Baden Powell, but which for the Catholic is a reminder of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the virtue of purity.

He authored a Scouting spirituality that formed youth with an awareness that life is a journey towards Heaven.

They should travel lightly with just a backpack, detached from greed, and with eyes, hands and legs ready to help others along the route. “On ne fait rien sur Terre qu’en se consumant” (You don’t achieve anything in this life except by exhausting yourself).

The prayer “Lord, teach me to be generous” marked the movement with the spirit of the Ecclesia militans, so admirably expressed in the spirituality of St. Ignatius.      

[1] Kenelm Henry Digby (1797–1880), an Anglo-Irish writer, who in 1822 published The Broad Stone of Honour. For a few of the many treasures in The Broad Stone of Honour, see Kenelm Henry Digby, Maxims of Christian Chivalry (Montreal: Catholic Authors Press, 2003).

[2] See Mark Girouard, The Return to Camelot: Chivalry and the English Gentleman (London: Yale University Press, 1981), pp. 56, 255–56.