By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — They don’t hand this award out like lollipops on Halloween.
It took Father Joseph Powers some 52 years of near-continuous participation in and service to Scouting to earn his Silver St. George Award.
The highest award bestowed by the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, Father Powers was honored at the committee’s annual meeting on April 14 in St. Louis.
Presenting the award was Bishop Emeritus Gerald Gettelfinger of Evansville, Ind., a former liaison between the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Committee on Scouting.
Technically, the award was presented for Father Powers’ 15 years of service as chaplain for Region 9, which includes 15 dioceses in the states of Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska.
But this award, along with virtually every other award possible that Father Powers has earned from the Boy Scouts of America, really was earned from a lifetime commitment to Scouting that began when Father Powers was 8 years old.
That’s when he joined Cub Scout Pack 283 at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Raytown with his mother, Lorraine, as Den mother.
“I stayed with it all the way through Eagle Scout,” Father Powers said. “I just enjoyed it. I enjoyed being outside, camping, the merit badges, just everything about it. I still like going camping.”
He also remembered clearly something else. The late Father John Frame, an associate pastor at Lourdes during Father Powers’ youth, was also interested and very much encouraged the Scouts in Pack and Troop 283. Father Frame would later die in an automobile accident in 1971.
“He would drop into our meetings just to show he was interested. That meant a lot to me,” Father Powers said.
He also remembered the service to Catholic Scouting that the late Father Tom Waterman gave to the Heart of America Council. Father Waterman was frequently the celebrant at Sunday Mass at the H. Roe Bartle Scout Camp near Osceola, which was frequently a mid-summer steam bath.
“I didn’t know him personally then, but he was always at camp,” Father Powers said.
Father Powers said the examples of those two priests had nothing to do with his own call to the priesthood. That came from God, as does all vocations.
But the two priests, as well as the lessons he learned from Scouting, certainly made it easier for him to hear that call, he said.
“You take the Boy Scout Law. There is nothing in it that is out of line with what we believe as Catholics,” he said.
For those who might by rusty on the Boy Scout Law, boiled down to its essence, it goes: “A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent.”
Scouts are not only required to learn it, they must be committed to follow it, Father Powers said.
And that commitment hooked Father Powers from Bobcat to Eagle, and beyond.
He said that the only time he was away from Scouting for any extended period during the last half-century was when he was studying to be a priest at Conception and Kenrick seminaries.
And as soon as he was ordained, he jumped right back in knowing from his own experience that Scouting is an ideal form of youth ministry.
“Whatever parish I was involved with as a priest, I would get involved with the Boy Scout Troop,” he said, giving long hours to Troop 30 at Christ the King as an associate pastor, and at Troop 80 at Holy Cross as pastor.
He also dove right in with the Diocesan Catholic Committee on Scouting, serving as chaplain for 23 years, and also with the Heart of America Boy Scout Council, serving as religious emblems coordinator ant on the executive board.
The reason is simple, Father Powers said.
“What other youth program actually encourages youth to learn about their religion?” he said.
Scouting isn’t strictly Catholic, he said. But religion is at it’s core, whether the troop is Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or Muslim. And that is how Robert Baden-Powell set it up when he wrote “Scouting for Boys,” in 1908 when the worldwide Scouting movement began.
“Religion wasn’t an afterthought when Baden-Powell started this,” Father Powers said.
“You learn to put God and others first,” he said. “That dedication to service to God and others can help a guy be at least a little bit more open to hearing that call from God.”
But even for Catholic boys who aren’t called to the priesthood, Scouting can make them better Catholic men, Father Powers said.
“All those skills and values you learn in Scouting makes you a better person, and you can take that wherever you go,” he said.
Father Powers said he’ll be as active in Scouting as the Lord allows. This summer, he said, he is already planning what for him is a perfect “vacation.”
He’ll spend 15 days this summer at the National Jamboree, sharing a canvas tent with three other chaplains.
And he’ll do it gladly, not because, at age 60, he’ll be one of the oldest Boy Scouts out there, but because he is a priest.
“It’s important to let kids see a priest still doing normal things like they do,” Father Powers said.
“If we are being involved and interested in them and their activities, and if that sparks an interest in a vocation, then that’s a benefit,” he said.