The Legacy Of An Ad Altare Dei Award

I met Jim about three years ago on an ACTS Retreat. It was shortly after his wife had passed away. A spark seemed to reignite his faith on that retreat. He became an RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) sponsor and never missed a Sunday. He serves on retreat teams, goes to mass almost every day and he continues to set up the RCIA room and make coffee for us every Sunday.

One Sunday he pulled me aside and said he wanted to give me something. I could see through a clear plastic bag that he was handing me an Ad Altare Dei religious award. He explained that he earned the award as a Boy Scout more than 60 years ago and how much the program meant to him. He also gave me a patch from one of the first Roman Catholic Boy Scout retreats held in the 1970s that he attended with his son.

I was honored and humbled to receive this from Jim. He knew I worked for the Boy Scouts and was active in the program with both of my sons. He said no one in his family would probably want the emblem or appreciate it. The ribbon was tattered and slightly soiled, proof that it was worn many times on the uniform.

The award sat on my dresser at home for a week or so. One day, I held it in my hand and realized how powerful the Ad Altare Dei award was to Jim and hundreds of thousands of other men who earned the award. The Ad Altare Dei award lites a fire in young men. It might burn bright and hot for decades. It might burn slow and glow throughout a lifetime. The intensity of the heat or the brightness of the flame isn't the proper measurement of one's life on earth or faith in God. But religious formation in young adults provides a critical spiritual foundation that can remain with them throughout their lifetime.

I was blessed to witness the fanning of the flame of Jim's spirit. I was doubly blessed to receive a simple piece of cloth and metal cross that signified a young Scout's readiness for a spiritual journey.

As thousands of Scouts, leaders and parents begin working on religious emblem programs this fall, there may be moments of frustration, lethargy or anger. Those emotions are common for young people. It might be a struggle to complete the award, but the long-term rewards outweigh the short-term challenges.

Joe Mueller ( and is the director of public relations for the Greater St. Louis Area Council, Boy Scouts of America (, and an executive board member of P.R.A.Y. (Programs of Religious Activities for Youth; )