January 12, 2018

Fraternus teaches young men Catholic masculinity

Members of Fraternus from St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle enjoy whitewater rafting during a ranch experience last spring in Tennessee. (Photo courtesy Father John Hollowell)

Members of Fraternus from St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle enjoy whitewater rafting during a ranch experience last spring in Tennessee. (Photo courtesy Father John Hollowell)

By Shayna Tews (Special to The Criterion)

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man must sharpen another” (Prv 27:17).

BRAZIL—Battle cries rang out from the participants. “Ego sum miles Christi!” “I am a soldier of Christ!” Young men, one by one with homemade swords, charged at pumpkins on a cool October evening. At time’s end, with the pulp left behind in victory, the swordsmen were each judged for their battle cry, style, agility and more, and the winner took home $20 in prize money.

This pumpkin slice competition was just one of several activities as part of a group called Fraternus, which has been leading young Catholic men in western Indiana into new territory for just over a year now.

The chapters in Brazil and Greencastle teach heroic virtue to young men, enabling them to grow into Catholic manhood. Boys in grades six through 12 are invited to be a part of Fraternus, thereby becoming the next generation of men to lead the Church.

Father John Hollowell, pastor of Annunciation Parish in Brazil and St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, approached men in both parishes about a year-and-a-half ago and asked if they would like to take an active role in forming a boys’ group for the young men. It was here that the local chapters of Fraternus were born.

“Masculinity is a great gift from God, and that it is not, as some say today, the source of all the world’s problems,” explained Father Hollowell. “Yes, there are certainly unhealthy and evil understandings of masculinity being peddled by our culture, but those are forgeries and counterfeits. Jesus Christ shows us how to live out an authentic and life-giving masculinity.”

The Fraternus chapters meet once a week, beginning with Comp Time, a competitive game. The group then listens to “The King’s Message,” a short video clip provided by the national Fraternus organization which coincides with the virtue being taught that week. The young men then break off into Squad Time—the younger students in one group and the older in another—where conversation can go more in-depth with the message for the week. The night ends with a challenge and a prayer.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised by some of the wisdom that some of our young men have been able to articulate in our Squad Time,” said Chris Durcholz of Annunciation Parish, one of the captains of its Fraternus chapter. “I’ve gotten a lot out of that. Maybe I didn’t give so much credit to our youth for having the wisdom, but when I stopped and listened, I was pretty surprised.”

Other young people from the neighborhood, including non-Catholics, have even joined the activities.

“We’re trying to give our young men within our parish and our community an identity of being a man, and within that, there’s inherent responsibilities that you have to care for your family,” explained Durcholz. “Moms are wonderful, and they’re great, and they are so vitally important, but the bond between a young man and his father or at least another man or Fraternus brother is extremely important.

“And I think we’re going to see in the future how this is going to pay dividends. We’ve had a lot of success stories this year, but I think we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg.”

“Masculinity is experiencing a great crisis today, and so many of our young men are in need of mentoring about what authentic masculinity is,” said Father Hollowell. “Living out masculinity is something that has to be modeled.”

Over the past year, the groups at both parishes have enjoyed forging their own swords, camping out with Mass under the stars, canoeing, fishing, and even a knighting ceremony with an authentic Fraternus sword.

Annunciation parishioner Kevin Shonk, also a Fraternus captain, said the brotherhood and the rites of passage experienced during the weekly meetings are important factors that go beyond the Fraternus nights.

“Whether we go out and play flag football or [stay] inside because of the weather, there’s some kind of competition within. But it’s friendly competition,” Shonk said. “I personally think that brings them all closer together, because that holds everybody accountable because you have the team aspect. And so, you hold your other Fraternus brother accountable for his actions, and then the high school guys can kind of lean on each other in high school. That creates that bond. And if it’s not there, then what kind of accountability do they have for each other?”

(Shayna Tews is a freelance writer and a member of Annunciation Parish in Brazil. If you are interested in starting a Fraternus chapter at your parish or learning more about the organization, visit fraternusbrothers.org.) †

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