In 1918, Fr. Jacques Sevin SJ. founded the first company of Catholic girl guides under the patronage of St. Therese of the Infant Jesus.
A band of Catholic girl guides paused by a fence bordering the Nambe Wilderness in New Mexico and carefully compared compasses before beginning a climb that would take them nearly 9,000 feet above sea level. They were setting out on their Raid, a challenge given to an aspirant before she can make her promise as a guide. Seven girls—the SSPX’s first American platoon—sang as they faced altitude sickness, late June mountain snow, and a rigorous hike. At the summit of the hike, they ate squished peanut butter sandwiches with delight on the shores of the beautiful Nambe Lake. Then, each girl spent quiet time alone meditating on the Law and Principles of Catholic scouting as she prepared for her promise.
A guide exercises great self-control; she smiles and sings in all hardships…exists to serve and save her neighbor…sees God’s hand in creation…labors to bring about the reign of Christ in her whole life and in the world around her…
Deeply devoted to St. Therese, Fr. Jacques Sevin saw in 1918 a connection between her simple and joyful spirituality and the scouting spirit. As a Jesuit, Sevin also infused the Ignatian spirit of militant discipline into his scouts, both boys and girls.
Before Fr. Sevin, the British General Lord Baden Powell had invented scouting shortly after his successful defense of the South African town, Mafeking, during the Boer War. He wanted to give all youths the chance at heroism and excellence that he had seen in some courageous boys during the siege, and to encourage his many young fans that what they saw as “heroism” in him was achievable by anyone willing to serve his neighbor.
While Powell’s scouting ideal was rooted in natural virtue, it was not until Fr. Sevin adapted his laws and principles to be explicitly Catholic that scouting began to flourish in the Church. While religious denominations all over the world were adopting Powell’s methods, the old General declared later in life that it was Fr. Sevin’s Catholic scouts who most exemplified his vision. Today, the SSPX claims many companies both of boys and girls, whose spirit is one of joyful service, outdoor adventure, and personal friendship with Christ, “the first guide, the first pathfinder…the first scout.”
While today’s secular girl scout might be an expert hiker, able to adventure into the wilderness and prove her strength and endurance, the Catholic guide’s adventures are not only exciting, but also spiritually fruitful. Her time in the wilderness is enriched by the fact that the world around her is, as Gerard Manley Hopkins said, “charged with the grandeur of God.” Far from the comfort and security of an air-conditioned bedroom, she touches a real world: one in which she can feel the heat of summer and the cold of winter, and know the relief of a bed on the hard ground after a full day, wash her hands in a stream, and see undimmed stars carpeting the night sky. While she has taken on the camper’s poverty, everything around her speaks of God’s richness. It is a world in which she must tread reverently and travel lightly, as she is only a visitor who will pack her bags at the end of camp just as she will at the end of her life: “Just as our tents fold up lightly…when time to depart draws nigh, so preserve us, fragile mortals, ever ready to die” (Fr. Sevin, Guide’s Prayer to Our Lady).
Most importantly, the spirit of scouting according to Fr. Sevin is one of generous service. Imitating Christ, the guide must train herself to be cheerful in hard conditions and to readily put her companions’ needs before her own. The challenges of the summer camp are never faced alone; the guide is “a sister to every other guide.” This means that within her small patrol, she must learn first to obey, and then gradually over time to lead the others, always remembering that a leader is first a servant and protector.
For America’s first platoon of Catholic guides, hiking, camping under the stars, and cooking a three-course meal on a backpacking stove were only a few of the week’s adventures. During their exploration of historic Santa Fe, the girls proudly explained to curious new friends that they were not girl scouts; they did not sell cookies! They were Catholic Guides of America, and though their summer camp activities resembled any adventurous scout’s, the difference was essential: it was a question of Faith! While preparing to make her promise as a guide, a girl prepares for a lifelong commitment to serve God and neighbor in the spirit of St. Ignatius’ prayer:
Lord Jesus…teach us to be generous,
To serve Thee as Thou deservest,
To give without counting the cost,
To fight without heeding the wounds,
To labor without seeking rest,
To spend ourselves without seeking a reward, Save that alone of knowing that we do Thy holy Will!
—Guide’s Prayer to Our Lord