Christopher Kerzich, an intern at Word on Fire and a Seminarian at Mundelein Seminary in Chicago, writes about his experience as an Eagle Scout in Boy Scouts of America. Read about how Chris' involvement in the organization influenced his decision to pursue the priesthood.
Many Catholics in America speak of a “vocations crisis,” or the decline in men seeking to become Catholic priests. Recently, Catholics have observed a spike in vocations wherein many talented men are beginning seminary studies. This has resulted in many seminarians throughout the country finding their communities full. Admittedly, there are many factors that affect this increase in vocations, but a significant percentage of the men ordained priests today are the fruit of one American institution, the Boy Scouts of America.
I first came to this realization when speaking to my fellow seminarians at Mundelein Seminary where many of my classmates are Eagle Scouts. As an Eagle Scout and former National Youth President of the Boy Scouts of America I admit some might question this observation, but it has been confirmed by the Center for the Applied Research in the Apostolate’s annual Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood.
According to the survey, participation in the Boy Scouts of America by those men ordained priests has been consistent phenomenon over the five years. Among the priests ordained in 2011, 30% or “three in ten participated in the Boy Scouts or Eagle Scouts.” In the 2010 and 2011 studies, CARA combined the groups “Boy Scouts/Eagle Scouts” in to one category. Previously, the group “Eagle Scouts” was polled separately from another group titled “Boy Scouts.” Interestingly, those studies with the “Eagle Scout” group (2006-2009) show on average 6% of newly ordained diocesan and religious priests climbed to Scouting’s highest rank. During the period 2006-2011, the CARA study states 30.16% of new priests were involved in Boy Scouting, but I suspect this percentage is actually higher.
The newly ordained priests highlight their involvement in Boy Scouting in a section titled, “Participation in Parish Programs or Activities.” CARA groups the “Boy Scout/Eagle Scout” group with a variety of other parish organizations including “parish youth group,” “community service,” “Knights of Columbus,” and “Catholic Campus Ministry/Newman Center.” The problem with placing the “Boy Scout/Eagle Scout” group with these other common venues of parish life is there are many Scouting units not affiliated with the Catholic Church. For example, my Boy Scout Troop was associated with a local park district and my Sea Scout Ship was associated with a local Methodist Church. Seminarians involved in Scouting outside of the context of his parish might find this aspect of the study confusing. Therefore, I suspect the percentage of ordinands who were involved in Boy Scouting might actually be higher. What is it about the Scouting program that many of the newly ordained priests have at one time in their life been among its ranks? From my experience there seems to be three reasons for these men seeking to serve Holy Mother Church as a priest.
First, the Scouting program, develops youth leaders through the ethos of “Doing a Good Turn Daily,” and in doing so, its participants become servant leaders. A Scout is instilled with the habit of serving others which eventually becomes a key aspect of his life. Many former scouts seek careers that embody serving something bigger than himself, and the Catholic Church is one such organization. Therefore, from the Scouting ethos of service one can see a young man would naturally be attracted to the servant leadership embodied in the priestly vocation.
Second, scouts embrace the connection between an internal reality being developed by external sign. Boy Scouts wear a uniform (external sign) and in doing so bear the responsibility of being called to a higher standard of conduct and stronger character (internal reality). This reality becomes ingrained in the Scout, so much so that it eventually exists with and without the uniform. Since a similar reality exists in the Catholic priest it is logical that a scout would be drawn to this ministry.
Third, the twelfth point of the Scout Law calls a scout to be “reverent toward God.” The program not only calls one to be a man of character but also “faithful to his religious duties.” Scouts are encouraged to dive into their faith communities and are supported by national religious committees. For Catholics, this is the National Catholic Committee on Scouting which encourages Catholic Scouts to learn more about the faith through a variety of programs. Therefore, one’s faith can be significantly developed by involvement in the Scouting program.
In the final analysis, one can see that the Catholic Church benefits greatly from the alumni of the Boy Scouts of America. Therefore, one should look to those young men involved in Boy Scouting today and encourage them to explore the possibility of becoming Priests of Jesus Christ. This could be one way to sustain the current rise in men training to become priests.
Christopher Kerzich is an Eagle Scout and a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Chicago studying at Mundelein Seminary.