A new American Heritage Girls troop at St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Parish launched just in time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima.
This was good timing, as the American Heritage Girls' National Catholic Committee recently announced a new Our Lady of Fatima patch for girls to earn as they learn about the historic and spiritual significance of the events at Fatima.
After spending about four months applying for a charter between AHG and the Oakville parish, troop coordinator Brad Downen said he is looking forward to offering the opportunity for his three daughters — and more than a dozen other girls who have since joined the troop — to grow in faith, serve others and have fun.
"I feel very blessed that we're starting this with the 100th anniversary of Fatima," said Downen, who showed the troop a movie about the apparitions. "The girls connect with the children, being close to them in age when that happened ... Now we have an established calendar starting in August, with camping and horseback riding and a Daddy-daughter pizza cook off. We're incorporating more family activities."
Founded in 1995 by a group of parents in Cincinnati, Ohio, who were seeking a wholesome program for their daughters, American Heritage Girls describes itself as a "Christ-centered character development program" for girls ages 5-18. The organization celebrated the registration of its 1,000th troop in January.
There are 12 AHG troops in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, a number that has tripled since Archbishop Robert Carlson issued a letter in 2016 encouraging participation in Christian-based scouting organizations. St. Louis also will be the location for a national AHG leadership conference in June 2018.
The Catholic Church is the largest and fastest-growing religious denomination among the national program, making up 25 percent of troops nationwide. In 2012, AHG formed a National Catholic Committee to support growth and spiritual development of its Catholic troops. There are more than 250 Catholic troops in 92 U.S. dioceses (more than half of U.S. dioceses), according to National Catholic Relations Specialist Julie Goodwin.
Last month, Archbishop Joseph Naumann announced that the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., would transition from hosting Girl Scouts in its parishes to chartering American Heritage Girls troops.
"Our greatest responsibility as a Church is to the children and young people in our care," he stated. "We have a limited time and number of opportunities to impact the formation of our young people. It is essential that all youth programs at our parishes affirm virtues and values consistent with our Catholic faith."
In a letter in February 2016, Archbishop Carlson also addressed ongoing concerns with the Girl Scouts. He encouraged pastors to "strongly consider" offering alternative organizations, including American Heritage Girls and Little Flower Girls Clubs.
According to AHG founder and executive director Patti Garibay, the momentum behind the growth of Catholic troops in St. Louis and elsewhere in the United States continueson an upswing. Because of growth in the Midwest, the organization has chosen St. Louis as a location for a national leadership conference in June 2018.
"Archbishop Carlson has really led the way, and with Archbishop Naumann's announcement, it exploded again," Garibay said. "We were very much inundated with interest and support — a lot of very good comments overall about what AHG is offering and how it honors the faith traditions of the Catholic Church. It is really important to undergird a girl's faith formation by selecting extracurricular activities that don't conflict with their faith."
AHG offers a way for girls to understand their true identity, Garibay said. "They need to know who they are and whose they are," she said, and "understand that they are a child of God, and that they are made uniquely in His image. That's what AHG is all about — celebrating the girl and thanking God for the way that He created her. For us, it's a blessing to be part of that journey."
>> American Heritage Girls troops in the Archdiocese of St. Louis
• Academy of the Sacred Heart, St. Charles
• Holy Infant, Ballwin
• Immacolata, Richmond Heights
• Immaculate Conception, Dardenne Prairie
• Incarnate Word, Chesterfield
• St. Clare of Assisi, Ellisville
• St. Joseph, Cottleville
• St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, Oakville
• St. Michael, Shrewsbury
• St. Paul, Fenton
• St. Paul, St. Paul
• St. Peter, Kirkwood
>> Learn more
• American Heritage Girls online: www.americanheritagegirls.org
• Several donors have pledged grants to help start Catholic troops in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. For information about starting a troop, visit American Heritage Girls' website at www.stlouisreview.com/Tuy or call (513) 771-2025. When contacting AHG either by phone or through the website, mention the grant money available to troops in the archdiocese.
• To learn more about starting a troop from the perspective of a leader in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, contact Kim Slane with AHG at St. Peter Parish in Kirkwood, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• AHG's national Inspire Leadership Conference will take place in St. Louis June 7-9, 2018.
• To learn more about scouting in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, visit www.archstl.org/scouting.
• The Office of Youth Ministry makes all the religious faith-formation awards programs available to anyone, regardless of participation in a scouting organization. Visit www.stlyouth.org.