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Meet the Father of Catholic Scouting, Venerable Jacques Sevin

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Philip Kosloski - published on 02/23/17

How a French priest integrated the Catholic faith into scouting

Over the past century millions of boys and girls have benefited from various scouting programs that teach invaluable life skills. Many of these scouting organizations trace their lineage all the way back to Lord Baden-Powell, a British Army officer of the early 20th century who wrote an influential book entitled Scouting for Boysthat caught on like wildfire. With the success of his innovative ideas for youth development, Baden-Powell and his book became the foundation for a new international scouting movement that would reach countries all over the world.

However, when Lord Baden-Powell’s ideas reached France, there were some priests in the country who were skeptical of the new movement and wrote articles denouncing it. At the same time one Jesuit in France, Jacques Sevin, had been following Baden-Powell’s progress and was not convinced that scouting should be tossed aside. Sevin decided he needed to go to the source and asked permission to travel to England to experience it for himself.

Sevin was allowed during the summer to observe the recently formed scouting troops and personally met Baden-Powell at a camp in 1913. This renewed Sevin’s interest in the movement and he returned to France thinking of different ways to incorporate the Catholic faith into scouting.

After being ordained to the priesthood, Sevin began experimenting with his ideas and started to write a book on the topic of scouting. Finally, with the approval of his superior, Sevin founded a new Catholic scouting troop in 1918 and consecrated it to the Sacred Heart. The first official camp was held in 1919 and a second troop was formed that same year.

In his book, entitled Le Scoutisme, Sevin detailed the method of Baden-Powell and then explored how the Catholic faith can be integrated into it. Sevin’s aim was to propose scouting to young people in hopes of developing their faith and integrating them deeply into the Catholic Church. Among his inspirations were Saint Ignatius, Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Sevin even composed a “Scout Prayer” based on a prayer of Saint Ignatius.

Baden-Powell heard about this new development and was deeply impressed with the implementation of his ideas by Father Sevin. It impressed him so much that Baden-Powell famously said about Father Sevin, “He made the best realization of my own thoughts.”

Sevin then went on to co-found the Fédération des Scouts de France in 1920 and later became known as the “Father of Catholic Scouting” for his innovative ideas. He died in 1951 while clutching a crucifix in his hand and saying to those around him, “Be saints, all of you! Nothing else counts.”

Saint John Paul II reflected on the work of Father Sevin in a letter to the leaders of the International Catholic Scout Conference in 1998.

“The meeting of the Scout method with the insights of Fr Sevin, S.J., has made it possible to develop an educational program based on Gospel values, in which each young person is led to grow and to develop his personality, thus making his talents fruitful. The Scout law, training young people in the way of virtue, invites them to moral rectitude and a spirit of asceticism, thus directing them to God and calling them to serve their brethren; by striving to do good, they become men and women who can play a responsible role in the Church and in society. In a troop, at camp and in other situations, Scouts discover the Lord through the wonders of creation, which they are called to respect. They also have a valuable experience of ecclesial life, meeting Christ in personal prayer, to which they can become accustomed, and in the Eucharistic celebration.”

The cause for his canonization was introduced in 1989 and Sevin was declared “venerable” in 2012. His life is an inspiration and shows how scouting can be successfully integrated into the Catholic faith. Many scouting organizations in Europe have been inspired by his example and his influence is even starting to be found in North America.

Venerable Jacques Sevin, pray for us!

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