Committee refuels efforts for Catholic Scouting

Categories: Around the Diocese

By Kristi Anderson
The Visitor

In October, Bishop Donald Kettler appointed Father Ben Kociemba as the new chaplain for the Diocesan Catholic Committee on Scouting. Since then, Father Kociemba has been recruiting people from across the diocese to help renew efforts to promote Catholicism through Boy Scout activities.

“What is exciting about this is that we are trying to minister to the Boy Scouts and their spiritual needs, especially the Catholic Boy Scouts,” Father Kociemba said. “We have awards that families and troops can work toward with their kids that help them grow in their faith.”

The 16-county geographic area of the diocese includes two Boy Scout councils — the Central Minnesota Council and the Northern Lights Council. Each council can use the structures in place from the National Catholic Committee on Scouting and tailor it to their needs.

“It’s a beautiful template for us to follow,” Father Kociemba said. “One of the basic fundamental principles of the Boy Scouts is ‘duty to God.’ The Boy Scouts is not neutral on its belief in God — it is a theistic organization. It expects that all boys involved be worshiping God in some way.”

The committee wants to emphasize the Religious Emblems for Catholics program. Each denomination of faith has its own emblems, and there are typically four emblems for Roman Catholics and an additional emblem in that category for Eastern-rite Catholics (see sidebar). There are also awards for adults.

Help from the community

“Another thing we plan to do is to train religious emblems counselors,” he explained. “We will invite people from different parishes where the troops are from and train them to be local facilitators for these emblems so that the boys can work with people they know.”
Boy Scout den leader Paula Gottwalt, a parishioner of St. Peter Parish in St. Cloud and member of the committee, first heard about the emblem program from other parents.

“It will be an important role of the committee to have parents speaking to other parents about the program,” she said.

Gottwalt, mother of five children, became a religious emblems counselor in 2011, along with two other mothers from their troop. They invited area priests to talk about some of the topics that are required to attain a religious emblem.

“The boys liked having time with the priests,” she said.

The boys studied the sacraments with Fathers Scott Pogatchnik, Matthew Kuhn, Alan Wielinski and Roger Botz. Father Kuhn gave them the opportunity to ask any questions they wanted to during lunch.

“As an adult and as a parent, I really valued witnessing that,” Gottwalt said. “It is a great asset to have a platform to discuss the sacraments, the history and background, why they are important to the church and how they have impacted your own life. We need to have these conversations with young people and that’s why I am a part of it.”

Gottwalt said it has helped her in her own faith life as well as her sons’.

“It has allowed me to think more consciously about what I know about the sacraments,” she said. “You are learning along with your children, and you are setting aside time to focus on faith.”

Other plans

The committee has planned a Catholic retreat — a weekend away during which boys can work on their religious emblems requirements.

“We will provide a fun weekend while at the same time working on their projects and really make it a positive experience for them,” Father Kociemba said.

Next spring, the committee will host a dinner with Bishop Kettler, who recently agreed to serve on the board of directors for the Central Minnesota Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Bishop Kettler, an Eagle Scout himself, will hand out the awards for Boy Scouts who have earned the religious emblems, Ad Altare Dei and Pius XII (see sidebar for description).

“It’s a great program for young people that can be very useful in developing family life, a relationship with God and a relationship with nature,” he said. “The values of Scouting meld well with the values of the church.”

Father Kociemba, who also earned the Eagle Scout distinction, said that it is critical that the Catholic faith be transmitted to the next generation. Parents are the first teachers of the faith by the way they live their life and the way they have conversations about their faith, he said.

“Catholic Scouting is a beautiful tool that parents can use with their kids to engage in their faith,” he said.

Besides religious emblems, patches are available, including a rosary patch for each of the mysteries, a Marian series for feast days, another called Footsteps of the American Saints as well as the recently launched Footsteps of Modern Saints. There also is a faith series that focuses on the corporal works of mercy.

“It appeals to the young boys to receive a patch because they get that immediate gratification, and it gives them a little extra bump to learn some of these things. That’s why I am excited about it,” Father Kociemba said.

They also have special days throughout the year like “Scout Sundays,” when they wear their uniforms to Mass, bring up gifts and, in some parishes, receive their awards. “Priesthood Sunday” is another day when Scouts recognize their priest with a special liturgy and do something nice for him, like invite him for a meal.

The committee has a subcommittee for vocations that has plans to bring Scouts to visit St. John Vianney College Seminary at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.

“I’d like to think that all the things we as church would like to be doing with our youth, we are doing here,” Father Kociemba said. “It’s not the only way of doing it, but it’s all there for those who want to partake in it.”