Spiritual strength part of Boy Scouts' highest rank, says Eagle Scout

WASHINGTON - For Catholic Eagle Scout Michael Sherburne, achieving the highest rank in the Boy Scouts "is not just about being smart or physically strong, but also spiritually as well."

"That is where the character and values come in," he said.

"Eagles are supposed to be able to stand up (for) their beliefs. We are different from the rest of society and that is not a bad thing," Sherburne said in a telephone interview with Catholic News Service.

The Eagle Scout is the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouts of America program and it is awarded to Boy Scouts who achieve excellence in service and leadership.

The first Eagle Scout medal was awarded to Arthur Rose Eldred, 17, of Rockville Centre, N.Y., in 1912.

As the Eagle Scouts celebrate their 100th anniversary, a study by Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion and Program on Pro-Social Behavior shows the merits of the achievement go beyond the badges.

Byron Johnson, the principal researcher, shared findings of the study with an audience earlier this summer at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

"Scouting generates social capital as well as spiritual capital," he told his listeners, who included Eagle Scouts of all ages.

"Spiritual capital" refers to the amount of active religious participation of Eagle Scouts.

The study showed that Eagle Scouts are 66 percent more likely than non-Scouts to volunteer time to a religious organization, and 53 percent more likely to donate money to a religious institution.

The requirements for attaining the Eagle Scout rank include earning a minimum of 21 merit badges, demonstrating "Scout Spirit," showing leadership skills, and planning and executing a leadership project.

For Sherburne, 17, that project was creating a meditation garden outside his parish church, St. Mary of Sorrows in Fairfax, Va., in the Diocese of Arlington.

The Catholic Church is one of the largest religious sponsors of Boy Scout troops in the country. Catholic Scouting programs encourage Scouts - both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts - to grow in their faith.

According to the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, the Catholic emblems boys in Scouting can earn include: "Light of Christ," for 6- and 7-year-old Cub Scouts; "Parvuli Dei," for 8- to 10-year-old Cub Scouts; "Ad Altare Dei," 13- and 14-year-old Boy Scouts; "Pope Pius XII," for Boy Scouts 15 years old and older; and "Light is Life," for 12- and 13-year-old Scouts who are members of the Eastern Catholic Churches.

The "Pope Pius XII" emblem, for example, awards Scouts for leading discussions on current issues facing the church and society. It is often a hallmark of Catholic Eagle Scouts.

He is among the more than 2.1 million Boy Scouts who have achieved the Eagle rank since its inception.

Among other awards he has earned and wears on his uniform are the Order of the Arrow sash and the "Ad Altare Dei" ("to the altar of God" ) medal, which Sherburne told CNS took him "a full year to get. The amount of Bible study was intense."

The Baylor study showed Eagle Scouts' values go beyond volunteer work. It said they are 50 percent more likely than non-Scouts to find a spiritual presence in nature.

"We live in a culture where this is not often the norm, but Eagle Scouts are 47 percent more likely to do what they believe is morally right," noted Johnson, the researcher.

Careful attention to rightness is a core tenet of the Boy Scouts.

"The Scout slogan 'Do a Good Turn Daily' is another part that is big for Eagles," said Sherburne told CNS. "We are supposed to be leaders of our community and help others."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970