Sons of Saint Patrick

by GAIL BESSE, NCRegister

St. Patrick’s Day in Boston: noise and beer. Green-haired Irish wannabes pack bars and compete for bragging rights as the last “pub crawl” survivor left standing.

Sons of St. Patrick, a band of Boston College undergraduates, should easily blend into this overindulgent crowd, right?

Not on your Blarney Stone.

“I warned them that around here that name sounds like a drinking club,” said Father Paul McNellis, a BC philosophy instructor who moderates the four-year-old fraternal group.

Sons is not an official BC organization. It’s a grassroots “society of Catholic gentlemen,” according to its mission statement.

Its hundred or so members really aim to imitate the patron saint of Ireland and Boston by leading virtuous lives and evangelizing. They want their actions, “particularly in their interaction with women, to reflect an understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Christ.”

Founded on the pillars of faith, fortitude and fraternity, the Sons of St. Patrick is “dedicated to fostering a community of virtue, character and faith amongst our peers and surrounding society.”

But St. Patrick’s Day surely doesn’t go unobserved, said junior Max Bindernagel of Cleveland. Of course there’s a party: music, food, a bit of Gaelic prayer, Irish step dance and “a Guinness on hand for those of age, but that’s it,” he said.

On Valentine’s Day, the group hosts a dinner for Gratia Plena, a BC women’s prayer group. They’ve run an Oktoberfest, movie nights and other events where “blacking out” isn’t a concern, explained senior Grayson Heenan of Detroit.

He said the group was founded by men hungry for socializing without morning-after regrets. Like many undergraduates, the seven founders struggled with temptations and “pressures to take part in a heavy-drinking culture, the hook-up scene, etc.,” Heenan wrote in a recent BC student newspaper article.

They became “dissatisfied living a life of compromise and contradiction, and they knew a fraternal group could withstand the tide. They were right,” he wrote. “We are not a secret society. We are not an exclusive cult. And most of all, we are not ‘holier than thou.’ Sons is not a group of saints. It’s a group of sinners who want to be saints.”

Members commit to daily prayer, Mass once a week in addition to Sunday, and monthly confession.

They hold a weekly meeting with Evening Prayer and a talk by a guest speaker on a topic relevant to life at BC. Usually 35 to 40 members attend. On Fridays, some venture into Boston to distribute sandwiches to the homeless.

Father McNellis said those students who gravitate to leadership mainly come from solid faith backgrounds. But for all freshmen, there are temptations to jettison their values that first year on campus.

“This group says, ‘Not so fast. You don’t need to forget about what your parents told you,’” he said.

Heenan’s experience in joining was typical. Raised Catholic, he had decided to “appropriate the faith” as his own in high school. But at college he became distracted — “moving almost imperceptibly further and further from the center.”

“When I went on a 48-hour retreat during winter of my freshman year, I acknowledged this interior cooling and resolved that something had to be done,” he said. So he attended his first Sons meeting and found himself “warmly welcomed into a group of between 10 and 15 guys enraptured with the Catholic faith, all encouraging and looking out for one another.”

“With this group, my faith life (and the rest of my life as well) gradually became stronger, richer, more serious and more centered,” Heenan said. more...

Its a challenge. Sending our carefully raised Catholic sons and daughters off to college and feeling that they are going to a 'good' place, is not easy - even when they go to 'Catholic' colleges.

The Cardinal Newman 'list' is helpful in finding those colleges that actually strive to maintain a faithful Catholic ethos , but what if your progeny chooses somewhere else (to play rugby for instance ...)?

Sons of St. Patrick, and Gratia Plena are examples of where our children's hearts are. Many campuses, Catholic and secular, have Newman Societies. Most campuses have access to a Catholic priest through Campus Ministries. Some student unions still allow student pro-life groups.

When we send off our college students, we pray and offer sacrifice for their continued and growing relationship with Christ through their church - our church - the Catholic church.

The rest, ultimately, is up to them.

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