Scouting programs are often a place to learn valuable life lessons — and for these Boy and Girl Scouts in southern New Jersey, they also became a means for spiritual growth.
In a ceremony earlier this summer at Saints Peter and Paul Church in Turnersville, about 55 Boy Scouts and 10 Girl Scouts received their religious awards.
For the scouts in their teens, this was the culmination of about a decade of diving deeper into their faith, serving others and evangelizing to younger scouts.
Both Boy and Girl Scouts have the option to complete religious award programs, beginning when they are young scouts in elementary school. As high schoolers, Boy Scouts can receive the Pope Pius award, and Girl Scouts can receive the Spirit Alive award. Both Boy and Girl Scouts can receive the Pillars of Faith award — which signifies the completion of all their religious award programs.
Jacob Mitchell, 17, who attends Saint Joseph Church (part of Saint Clare of Assisi Parish in Swedesboro) earned the Pope Pius Award, the Pillars of Faith Award and became an Eagle Scout this year, said the religious award programs helped him to make his faith his own.
“I go to church every Sunday, but these really helped me to delve deeper into the faith itself and make me question everything about how I live my life,” he said.
One lesson he took part in as he prepared to receive the Pope Pius award helped him to explore his future life decisions through the lens of his faith, he said.
“We had to sit down with a group of people that included a priest, a deacon, somebody that’s single and somebody that’s married,” Jacob said. “And I thought that was really cool just to see different ways of life in the Catholic faith and how each of them are involved in the church. I haven’t really made a decision yet on my vocation, but that really helped seeing how each of them lived their lives.”
Danielle Gioffre, 18, who attends Christ the Redeemer Parish in Atco, says her time in the Girl Scouts “just reminds me how it’s important to help people not for getting anything out of it but just because it’s like the right thing to do.”
In a journal entry for her Spirit Alive program, Danielle reflected on how the lessons she learned were a call to action.
“It was pretty much about how the Holy Spirit is really supposed to fill each Catholic with love for everyone and understanding of how to live the way Jesus lives,” she said. “Not only was I learning about that, but I feel I put that to use because I helped others with this program.”
Danielle did just that when she helped two Brownie Girl Scouts in her mother’s troop to complete their religious award booklet.
Her mother, Patty Gioffre, the Girl Scout Chair for the Catholic Committee on Scouting, said all three of her daughters – Danielle is the youngest — have participated in the religious award programs.
“I guess one of the really cool things is watching my daughters really grow into exceptional community-minded younger leaders of tomorrow,” Gioffre said. “It’s not just my own daughters — it’s both my biological ones and ones entrusted to me through [the Girl Scouts program] — they’re all my kids.”
“They all become yours in some form or another,” she added. “[I’m] watching these young women … as college students and young adults who are now out of school … and still out in the community and doing these really amazing things.”
Scouts enrolled in the religious awards programs take part in several community efforts during their time in the program, according to Joe Brennan, the chairperson of the Catholic Committee on Scouting.
They have served at Joseph’s House, a shelter in Camden, gotten involved in DeSales Service Works projects and cleaned up trash and dirt from local playground areas, he said.
“These kids go back to their troops and they talk about this,” Brennan said. “They also talk about this at the churches.”
Brennan said he’s also watched several scouts deepen their faith during their time in the religious award programs.
“They basically were as younger scouts just pretty much going through the motions, but then as they go through the program, you could see the progression in faith,” he said. “To me it’s their willingness to help others. They really want to help other people, and it’s a joyful service. It’s one of those things that they’re very happy doing.”
Brennan has seen that kind of growth through his two sons, now ages 33 and 30, and so many others who he shepherded through the program.
“It doesn’t stop,” he said. “That’s the blessing from this … because it’s now a way of life with them. It’s not just something they turn off when they became Eagle Scouts or got their Pillars of Faith Award or the Bishop’s Award and say, ‘Oh, that’s over.’ It’s only started. That’s really a blessing for me to see.”