The National Catholic Committee for Girl Scouts and Camp Fire dates back to the early days of the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) and the National Catholic Welfare Conference. Although it has functioned in various capacities and under several different names, this committee’s purpose has remained the same: to minister to the Catholic girls in Girl Scouts (at first) and Camp Fire (since 1973).
The relationship between Girl Scouting and Catholic youth ministry is the result of the foresight of Juliette Gordon Low. Soon after founding the Girl Scout movement in 1912, Low traveled to Baltimore to meet James Cardinal Gibbons and consult with him about her project. Five years later, Joseph Patrick Cardinal Hayes of New York appointed a representative to the Girl Scout National Board of Directors. The cardinal wanted to determine whether the Girl Scout program, which was so fine in theory, was equally sound in practice. Satisfied on this point, His Eminence publicly declared the program suitable for Catholic girls. ln due course, the four U.S. cardinals and the U.S. Catholic hierarchy followed suit. In the early 1920s, Girl Scout troops were formed in parochial schools and Catholic women eagerly became leaders in the program.
When CYO was established in the early 1930s, Girl Scouting became its ally as a separate, cooperative enterprise. In 1936, sociologist Fr. Edward Roberts Moore of Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of New York, studied and approved the Girl Scout program because it was fitting for girls to become “participating citizens in a modern, social democracy.” This support further enhanced the relationship between the Catholic Church and Girl Scouting. In 1970, the Committee was officially named the “Girl Scout Committee of the Advisory Board” of the National CYO Federation. The Committee expanded in 1973 to include Camp Fire Girls. Membership was composed of clergy and laity, and included a consultant from each of the organizations.
The NCYOF Advisory Board itself and the United States Catholic Conference (USCC) underwent structural changes during the following 12 years. The Archdiocese of New Orleans sponsored the first gathering of adults from all over the country who were active in Girl Scouting and Camp Fire. From this meeting came the genesis of the committee in its present day form. At that gathering, a dream was conceived that there would be a national committee composed of representatives from the NCYOF regions. A resolution requesting the formation of such a committee was sent to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Out of this action and due to the inclusion of the Junior Catholic Daughters of America (JCDA), the “National Committee on Girls’ Organizations was the name given to the new committee structure which provided for the first time for geographic representation of diocesan youth directors, Girl Scout and Camp Fire chaplains, and volunteers. Additional members on the newly-structured committee were a NCYOF Board-approved volunteer and one consultant from each of the three organizations, Girl Scouts, Camp Fire and Junior Catholic Daughters of America.
Following this restructuring, formal Plans of Cooperation between the USCC and GSUSA, and the USCC and Camp Fire Girls were created. When Camp Fire changed its membership to include boys, all documents were changed to reflect the new corporate name, Camp Fire, Inc. The committee’s second gathering was a national conference held in Detroit in 1979. The St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Medal was developed in 1980 to recognize adults who made significant contributions to the spiritual development of Catholic girls in Girl Scouts and Camp Fire. Another national conference was held in 1981 in Houston.
A Crucial Decision
A major restructuring of the NCYOF was mandated in 1980. Once again, the committee faced critical decisions regarding its future. The committee conducted a national survey of diocesan youth directors and chaplains. The 92 percent response indicated much support for the work of the committee. After prayerful and serious deliberation, the committee voted, on January 17, 1982, to remain an integral part of the total youth ministry concept defined in A Vision of Youth Ministry (USCC, 1976). At this time, the Junior Catholic Daughters of America (JCDA) excluded itself from membership but requested permission to use the national religious recognition programs.
The National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM) was the result of the NCYOF restructuring. The Federation was formed at Malvern, Pennsylvania on January 19, 1982. Because of its decision two days earlier, the National Catholic Committee for Girl Scouts and Camp Fire was already a part of the newly-formed Federation. The 1988 bylaw changes of the NFCYM clearly reflect and support the wisdom of this decision
A benefit of this unifying action was the Plan of Cooperation between the USCC and the NFCYM which granted the transfer of the programs and conferences of this Committee from the USCC to the Federation.
At its biennial conference in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, in 1983, the Committee decided to present its next conference for the Girl Scout-Camp Fire ministry as a track to the National Conference on Catholic Youth Ministry thereby integrating our mutual needs and resources. Since that time, we have provided training opportunities for adult diocesan leaders in Phoenix and Cincinnati.
The latter event included the premier viewing of the national slide presentation, “Ministry through Girl Scouts and Camp Fire,” produced with inspiration and cooperation from the Office of Youth Ministry, Archdiocese of New York and the Middle Mississippi Girl Scout Council, Jackson, Mississippi.
In 1986, the Committee set for itself the following mandate: “The committee encourages and promotes cooperation between Girl Scouting and Camp Fire with youth ministry by:
- advising the Federation on the content and design of religious recognition programs;
- promoting participation in these programs within the youth ministry philosophy; and
- designing, planning, and implementing training opportunities for key adult and teen leaders.”
Belief in God and acknowledgment of one’s responsibility to God are values inherent in both the Girl Scout Promise and the Camp Fire Oath. As time and change have surfaced new challenges, these values, so dominant in the organizations whose Catholic membership we serve, remain true to the philosophies of their founders. The opportunities presented by these challenges call upon us to continue to work diligently for the spiritual development of the Catholic youth in these viable avenues of youth ministry—Girl Scouting and Camp Fire.