May 11, 2012

A pledge to God, women and parents

Crusaders for Christ club at school teaches young men respect, manners and faith

Saben Fletcher opens the door for Grace Meier at St. Michael School in Greenfield, displaying one of the thoughtful acts that earned him the distinction as the Gentleman of the Year for the school’s Crusaders for Christ Gentlemen’s Club—a club that seeks to develop faith, values and manners in male middle school students. Both Saben and Grace are seventh-grade students at St. Michael School. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Saben Fletcher opens the door for Grace Meier at St. Michael School in Greenfield, displaying one of the thoughtful acts that earned him the distinction as the Gentleman of the Year for the school’s Crusaders for Christ Gentlemen’s Club—a club that seeks to develop faith, values and manners in male middle school students. Both Saben and Grace are seventh-grade students at St. Michael School. (Photo by John Shaughnessy) Click for a larger version.

By John Shaughnessy

GREENFIELD—It’s one of those moments that makes even an innocent guy squirm subconsciously.

Especially when you’re at the age of 12, 13 or 14.

And especially when your fate is suddenly in the hands of the girls in your classroom.

Oh sure, the guys look calm, well-groomed and all-grown-up in their light blue dress shirts and their gold or yellow ties.

And the odds are high that they really have nothing to fear, especially if they have tried to live up to the pledge they have made as members of the Crusaders for Christ Gentlemen’s Club at St. Michael School in Greenfield.

That’s the pledge that includes these promises:

  • I place God and others before myself.
  • I will, honor, respect and protect all women.
  • I will try to do my best as a Christian gentleman in dress, hygiene, grooming, and my treatment of all people.
  • I am responsible for my actions and will maintain my grades.
  • I will obey my parents and teachers and all those in authority over me in accordance with Christian values.

Yet even though the 37 members of the Gentlemen’s Club have tried to uphold those vows for most of the school year, there is still sometimes a seed of doubt in their minds as the adult moderator of the club—a retired veteran of the United States Air Force—gets to the part of the monthly lunch program where he reads notes from the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade girls about how well or how poorly any of the guys have lived up to that pledge.

After pausing for dramatic effect, club moderator Richard Duncan announces that there are no negative reports from the girls about the guys this month.

“I think this is the first month we haven’t had any negatives, so I guess we’re improving,” Duncan tells the group.

As a collective sigh of relief spreads through the American Legion Hall in Greenfield, Duncan reads several notes from unnamed girls who offer compliments about the courtesy and chivalry of certain guys —guys who smile or blush as they receive a round of cheers from their fellow club members.

A plan for other Catholic schools?

That scene seems from a different world and a different time when viewed against a current culture that places an increasing emphasis on promoting one’s self and tearing down other people, says Msgr. William Stumpf, administrator of St. Michael Parish.

Indeed, Msgr. Stumpf believes that every male student in middle schools across the archdiocese could benefit from trying to live their lives according to the pledge of the Crusaders for Christ Gentlemen’s Club.

“This club is a wonderful opportunity to be reminded that being a Catholic calls them to a certain way of life and a certain way of treating people,” he says. “It’s also reminding them that part of our faith is being open to God’s will. I was just enthralled when I went to one of their meetings. It would be neat if other schools and parishes would take it on as a project for their boys.”

That’s how the program started five years ago at St. Michael School. A teacher of sixth grade social sciences, Duncan was intrigued when he saw a local newspaper article about a similar club at Greenfield Middle School.

“They were trying to get their kids to behave correctly,” recalls Duncan, who retired from the Air Force in 2001 as a lieutenant colonel after 24 years of serving his country. “I liked the idea, but I made it focus on Christ instead of secular things. We beefed it up for God.”

He also kept the emphasis on manners and social graces. Club members learn how to make a toast, place their napkin on their right knee, to stand up when a female leaves the table, and to keep their arms and elbows off the tables when they eat.

The students also learn from guest speakers at their monthly luncheons.

“The speakers talk about their secrets to success, their Christian backgrounds and how faith helps them out,” Duncan says. “We’ve had doctors, lawyers, business owners, and a plumber.”

The speaker at the April meeting of the Gentlemen’s Club was Brad Arthur, a member of St. Michael Parish who owns businesses in commercial real estate and residential and commercial remodeling. Arthur talked about the importance of education, honesty and respect—in his work and his life.

The club also puts a priority on how its members treat females.

‘Girls come up with notes all the time’

“One of the things that we do is we have the middle school girls voluntarily submit in writing a good comment or a negative comment about the boys,” Duncan says. “The girls need to sign the note, but I don’t read their names when I read the note at the luncheon. The girls come up to me with notes all the time. ‘Somebody opened the door for me.’ ‘Somebody picked up my books for me.’

“But we don’t just bask in the good things we do. We also want to hear the negative things and the things we have to work on.”

Well, the negative things are not exactly what the guys want to hear when the notes from the girls are read.

“A lot of sixth graders get really nervous,” says Tyler Mundell, a 14-year-old, eighth-grade student who is president of the club.

Still, the students who have been in the Gentlemen’s Club for two or three years notice the difference in themselves and their friends.

“Since I started in the sixth grade, I think I’ve changed,” says Owen Smith, an eighth-grade student. “In sixth grade, I might not have picked up a book for a girl. Now, I pick up books for the ladies.”

Eighth-grade student Westyn Wood noted, “My mom said just the other day that my manners have picked up, and I’m really being a gentleman.”

“Some boys who weren’t in the club for a couple of years didn’t make smart decisions and got in trouble,” says Luke Tuttle, a seventh-grade student. “Then they got in this club, and they liked it and wanted to stay in it so they make right decisions.”

‘All of us are in it together’

The club is voluntary, but all the male students in the middle school belong to it.

Duncan and club members acknowledge that one of the reasons the club has universal appeal is that it gets the students out of school once a month for a lunch that features hot dogs, hamburgers, French fries, desserts and unlimited refills of soft drinks.

Yet it’s also true that members can be suspended or even removed from the club if they don’t live up to the pledge that they make.

Duncan says that teachers have noticed improvements in the way the members treat their female classmates, and positive changes in their attitudes at school. Members insist that they embrace the standards and try to live up to them.

“I like what we’re being taught—the values,” Tyler says. “I like what the guest speakers have to say—that to be successful we need self-discipline, scruples and faith.”

“It’s good we’re all part of this,” says Joshua Mundell, a seventh-grade student. “To be in this club is a big thing, and you can get kicked out of it. All of us are in it together. We do good things, and we make a difference.” †

 

Crusaders for Christ Gentlemen’s Club Pledge

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