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Mentorship program cultivates Catholic men

Fraternus — an apostolate that provides boys with crucial adult male mentorship to help them grow into mature, virtuous Catholic men — is celebrating its 10th anniversary. While it bears similarities to the personal mentorship boys receive through Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters programs, it differs in that the boy is mentored through the brotherhood of a parish Fraternus chapter. Activities are not geared to “amuse,” but rather to create an environment in which “boys find themselves becoming men, experiencing a robust vision of Christianity,” explained Jason Craig, Fraternus’ vice president of program.

“When boys choose to stay boys, they don’t come back,” he said. “But when they want to grow up and become men, with more expected of them, they do.”

Need for fatherhood

Craig heads the small administrative staff that oversees Fraternus chapters active in 30 parishes nationwide. He is also a former youth minister who earned a master’s in theology and evangelization from the Augustine Institute and authored the training and curriculum used in the chapters. He joined with board chairman Justin Biance to found the organization after recognizing the crisis of fatherlessness in communities nationwide and the desperate need boys have for adult male mentors.

Craig said, “Boys need mentors to become men. We who founded Fraternus saw the indisputable need for mentoring and how few there were in the Catholic world.”

Many of society’s problems are linked to the crisis of fatherlessness, he said, such as fatherless boys joining violent street gangs in the inner cities. Craig is preparing to release a book on the topic through Our Sunday Visitor, with the working title “Rites of Passage: Why Boys Grow Up and Some Men Don’t.”

Craig continued, “When a woman has a baby, she is not going to forget that baby. But fatherhood and manhood must be chosen. Someone must show a boy how to take on these roles, which is why mentoring is so important for men. Women don’t run away from their children. But if men aren’t challenged, many of them will.”

Creating community

The program begins at a parish when seven men agree to start the brotherhood and secure the pastor’s approval. A “sage” — an experienced volunteer — guides the group. While there is a fee to participate in the program, often the costs are paid for by parishes.

Running from fall to spring, the group meets for weekly “Frat Nights” during which the men pray together, study a topic and watch a movie clip. Once the group has been established, boys 11 and older are invited to join. The group unites to grow in virtue as well as embrace a challenge, such as making regular visits to the Blessed Sacrament. The goal is to have the boys develop and retain good habits, such as regular Mass attendance or praying the rosary.

Participants receive titles, Craig said, as “recognized ranks in advancement.” For boys, these include ranger, warrior, disciple and senior brother, culminating in knighthood and the reception of a sword when a boy reaches high school. Adult parish leaders are commanders; their assistants are captains.

Other components of the program include an annual Summer Ranch excursion, typically at an east Tennessee ranch, during which participants can enjoy a vibrant Catholic spirituality along with outdoor activities such as whitewater rafting and horseback riding.

The program also gives adult Catholic men an opportunity to serve as mentors. Craig explained, “Fraternus wakes up men to the problem of fatherlessness and teaches them the art of becoming a mentor.”

The curriculum is designed, Craig said, “for implementation for the average, busy dad,” with the national staff providing “whatever support they need to become a better mentor.”

While Fraternus is not a vocations program, a side effect has been that many young men, after maturing in their faith, have entered the seminary. Nashville, Tennessee, for example, which has Fraternus chapters in five of its parishes, has seen a dozen of its young men enter seminary.

‘Iron sharpening iron’

Ryan Penney, 27, is an employee of EWTN in Birmingham, Alabama, and is a captain in the Fraternus program through his parish, the Cathedral of St. Paul. More than 100 participate weekly, including several priests. He said, “Fraternus is a brotherhood of Catholic men, helping each other to be all that God has called them to be, which they cannot do living in isolation.” Referring to the program as “iron sharpening iron,” he said, the group “helps me grow in areas where I am weak, and I can help others grow in areas where they are weak.”

Most men lack community, he believes, and his participation “has proven effective in my life.” Additionally, modeling good behavior to boys leads him to greater virtue.

He continued, “I don’t have sons or daughters of my own, but I am trying to live out that paternal spirit. We can’t just receive God’s grace and not pass it on; in a fatherly way you must pass it on to the generation coming up behind you.

“The crisis of masculinity is a serious challenge facing our world today, and Fraternus helps to restore authentic Catholic masculinity better than any other movement I’ve seen.”

Craig has been “amazed” by the program’s results. He said, “To be fully a man, you have to become a mentor. Fraternus has given men a way to do that. We’ve seen relationships in homes and communities strengthened, conversions, and lives changed. The fruit has been tangible.”

Craig welcomes both volunteers and donations to support the Fraternus apostolate.

For more information, visit: fraternus.net

Jim Graves writes from California.

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