Catholic Herald staff
On a warm August night, a group of boys are rummaging through camping gear in the Farmington Town Hall.
“Sunglasses?” one asks. “Are they essential?”
The boys are cadets in the Troops of Saint George, an apostolate that pairs virtue and Catholic values with outdoor recreation and adventure.
Founded in 2013 by Dr. Taylor Marshall, a Texan and former Episcopalian priest who converted to Catholicism, the program is an opportunity for fathers and sons to bond, “to use the outdoors as our canvas and the sacraments as our path to light the way for the formation of Holy Catholic men and boys.”
Although the Troops are a fledgling organization, awareness of the program is spreading. The Polk County group is one of only two in the state – the other is in Kenosha – but the Twin Cities area is home to several troops.
Louisiana native Randy Borne is the captain of Troop 73, which meets twice monthly in the Town of Farmington, a few miles south of Osceola.
Borne’s son was in the Boy Scouts when, in 2013, the Boy Scouts of America changed its policy on homosexual members. He wanted his son in a program consistent with Catholic teaching, so when another parent passed him a sheet of paper with information on the Troops of Saint George, Borne was interested.
“The mission is to raise our sons, whether they choose the profession of priesthood or another vocation, in the Catholic Church,” he said.
Before long, he was leading the charge to charter a local chapter.
Troop 73 formed in 2013 and has about 16 members, Borne said.
Cadets range in age from 6 to 18. Ages 6 to 10 are junior cadets; ages 11 to 18 are senior cadets.
Meetings are the first and third Tuesday of each month. Each gathering opens and closes with prayer and includes a demonstration or activity for the boys.
On Aug. 4, cadets were deliberating the 10 essential items for backpacking — a group activity that fostered collaboration, cooperation and decision-making skills.
After picking through the pile of survival gear and choosing the necessities, cadets were ready for some guidance.
“Alright, let’s review what we’ve got,” Borne said, and the appraisal began.
The importance of a first-aid kit was affirmed, while the cast iron pan was cast out — too heavy for the hiker.
According to sharpenedknife.com, ponchos, pocketknives and dehydrated meals are more than pieces in a game. The boys must be properly equipped for the backpacking retreat on which they’ll embark in late August; they also watched a short video on preparing for hiking and backpacking over tough terrain.
The August retreat will involve camping and backpacking and teach cadets survival skills, but it will also include Mass on Saturday and Latin Mass on Sunday.
“Prepared always,” the Troops of Saint George motto, is taken from St. Paul and corresponds to both spiritual and literal preparedness.
By the program’s design, years of boyhood participation and training culminates in a final test of Catholic manhood.
Cadets advance to a new rank each year and progress toward Tribune, the highest ranking, by taking 20 achievement courses on topics related to survival, patriotism, history, Catholicism, classical scholarship and more.
Each cadet must complete a tribunal project — build a shrine, landscape church grounds, build or replace pews or create an outdoor Stations of the Cross — before he is eligible to take the final test.
Men must be older than 18 to attempt the rank of Tribune, so named because St. George was a Roman Tribune before his martyrdom.
The final test is a 24-hour survival ordeal. Men are blindfolded and taken into the wilderness with a tarp, a cup, flint and steel, a fishing line and hook, a full canteen, duct tape, string, first-aid kit, emergency foghorn and one hotdog to be used for food or bait.
During his test, the man must say a prescribed set of prayers, write a poem, reflect on his journey and use his compass to find his troop at the location marked on a map.
In passing the test, he earns the ultimate title of Tribune of Saint George.
Troops are led by a captain and lieutenant; to join the national organization, each troop must also have a chaplain in good standing with the church — Fr. William Brenna is the chaplain for Troop 73 — who provides a letter of reference for the captain.
Diocesan safe conduct training is also a requirement for leaders; troops pay dues to the national organization, and a committee of fathers steers each troop.
Troop 73 will soon be starting its third year as a chartered chapter of the national organization, and membership in the local troop continues to grow, Borne said.
Individual troops are also responsible for promoting the Troops of Saint George in their parishes and communities, one reason why Borne contacted the Diocese of Bismarck, N.D., to tell them about the organization after the bishop formally disaffiliated with the Boy Scouts of America following their decision to allow openly gay leaders.
Borne expects more bishops are grappling with the issue of whether to sever ties with the Boy Scouts, and he hopes they will promote the newer, consistently Catholic alternative in their own dioceses.
For information on Troop 73, visit www.troopsofstgeorgewi.com/index.htm or contact Randy Borne at .