“On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country ...”
— Boy Scout Oath
“On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country ...” — Boy Scout Oath
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“On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country ...”
— Boy Scout Oath

Duty to God. The phrase evokes a simple and straightforward concept — prayer, reflection and helping others as reflected in Scripture. Basic in scope, it nevertheless takes time and commitment to understand what it means ... and what it takes.
One is never too young to begin that understanding.

Scouting organizations, such as The Boy Scouts of America and Girl Scouts of the USA, are worldwide youth movements started over a century ago. These groups envisioned duty to God as a principal tenet for their members. Combined with other character-building traits for youth promoted by these and other organizations — strength and fitness of body and mind, strong moral compass and service to others — Duty to God reinforces in youth the need to remain connected with their faiths as part of their Scouting lives.

The Diocesan Committee on Scouting assists in this effort, for Scouting is youth ministry. Point of fact: the committee resides administratively within the Diocesan Youth and Young Adult Ministry office, where Director David Stagliano serves as primary liaison and advocate within the Diocese. The committee also works with the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM) and other groups involved in youth ministry across the Diocese.

“Our job is first to raise awareness of how the committee can support faith-inclusive youth organizations by providing related activities and programs for their use,” said Greg Szczesny, committee chair. “Second, we work to encourage sponsorship of troops by religious entities where applicable. Scouting, along with a faith group’s specialized teachings, helps strengthen a youth’s view of the world that is not centered to the youth but to the needs of others.”

The committee’s geographic outreach mirrors that of the Diocese; as such, they have a lot of ground to cover. The Boy Scouts’ Twin Rivers Council — an administrative entity that serves Cub Scout Packs, Scouts BSA Troops, Venturing Crews and Explorer Posts — almost (but not quite) matches the same land area as the Diocese. Where they don’t match up, the committee works with adjoining councils so that all faith and Scouting units within the Diocese are included in the committee’s work. For Girl Scouts, the GS of Northeastern New York Council is the local council and covers more land area than the Diocese itself.

“We’ve had training and programs and participating members from nearly all corners of the Diocese,” Szczesny said. “We want to be well known to everyone in our service area, which, coming out of a pandemic, means raising our profile yet again.”

Both Girl Scouts and The Boy Scouts of America have developed numerous age-appropriate and engaging programs for youth that, upon completion, recognize their work with religious medals. These religious emblem award programs are designed to be an integral part of a Scout’s advancement that includes earning merit badges and attaining various ranks as they age. The highest rank is Eagle Scout for Scouts BSA and the Gold Award for Girl Scouts.

“Advancement requirements at each rank for Scouts BSA have a Duty to God component that must be met before moving to the next level,” Szczesny said. “It’s not a one-and-done deal.”

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“On my honor, I will try: To serve God and my country ...”
— Girl Scout Promise

Grace Fay is a member and immediate past chair of the committee. She serves as coordinator for the Girl Scout USA, Campfire Girls USA, and American Heritage Girls. Fay also is the region representative for the National Catholic Committee for Girl Scouts and Campfire Girls (NCCGSCF), which has an established in-depth religious recognition program for young people of all ages.

“From kindergarten through high school, there are a series of programs that Girl Scouts can use to deepen their appreciation of God in their lives, learn about the Sacraments, learn more about the Blessed Mother, and the importance of service; as well as explore their own religious identities,” Fay said. “The religious award program, as well as the religious patch program, is for more than just Girl Scouts; each program can be used as part of a religious education or youth ministry program.”

Religious award recognition is not limited to youth. Adult volunteers who spend time counseling youth are often noted as examples to Scouts on how they can continue in service to others once they are out of the Scouting program. Some of the awards are locally based, others are on the national level.

“The Elizabeth Anne Seton Medal honors adults who have spent time working to deepen the faith of young people through the Girl Scout Religious Emblem program. The Saint Anne Medal honors the outstanding service of adults who contribute to the spiritual development of Catholic members of organizations for girls, and to further Catholic adult leadership in youth ministry through those organizations,” Fay said. “The Saint Anne Medal is the highest national award in this field.”

Last year, in the midst of COVID-19, a few of the girls in our Diocese took part in a virtual program put on by the NCCGSCF that included girls from around the country. The virtual program was a success and helped the girls complete their religious emblems through virtual meetings instead of in-person meetings. It also allowed the middle school and high school aged girls to see that they are not alone in their faith but that there are girls with their same interests and faith around the country.

“In a time when our young people seem to be leaving the Church during their middle school and high school years,” Fay said, “it was extremely important to the NCCGSCF that we give girls a chance to feel connected during a pandemic that was disconnecting them from everything that seemed normal to them. We wanted to help them find some normalcy in the abnormal times they were living in.”

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“A Scout is ... Reverent.”
— 12th Point of the Boy Scout Law

The flagship activity on the committee’s calendar of events is the annual retreat at Auriesville, scheduled for May 13 and 14. At one time — decades ago, to be precise — up to 500 Scouts, Scouters and scores of troops would attend the retreat, which began Friday and culminated in a liturgy at the Coliseum on Sunday, then followed by conferring religious emblem awards to youth and adults. Those numbers have declined steadily over the past 40 years, but attendees of the most recent retreat in 2019 continued to participate in a program that serves as one of the principal foundations for the committee’s work — work that enhances faith in Scouts’ and Scouters’ lives throughout the Diocese.

“We have been blessed with great committee members, excellent leadership past and present and team building at all levels,” notes committee member Ron Derway, who is also a member of the Boy Scouts’ National Catholic Committee on Scouting as Chair of Region 2, encompassing all dioceses in New York State and Puerto Rico. “We look forward to serving all scouts of all faiths by promoting Duty to God.”

Wilson is coordinator for Cub Scout awards for the Diocesan Committee on Scouting. For more information about the committee and its work, head to https://www.rcda.org/offices/scouting.