MONONA -- During the previous school year on Wednesday evenings, part of the basement at Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) Parish in Monona took on the role of sort of a secret clubhouse.
There, a group of scouts, or Timber Wolves of the Federation of North American Explorers (FNE) Northern Lights, held their weekly meetings.
The FNE is a volunteer Catholic Christian faith-based youth movement. According to the group's website, www.fneexplorers.com the movement is shaping the character, social, environmental, spiritual, and leadership aspects of children into their adult lives.
"Our purpose is to save souls," said local group leader Jeff Bond. "It's a mechanism to bring friends together and bring kids together where they can learn the faith and become closer to God."
Inspiration for the idea
Bond got the idea to start a group locally after attending the FNE summer camp last year in Canada with his son, Christian.
At the summer camp, boys get an opportunity to not only play games and sleep in cabins, but also to participate in their faith.
One evening, each of the more than 60 boys from the United States, Canada, and France took turns carrying a large wooden cross to the top of a hill where they had a prayer service.
After that, they each took turns carrying the cross down the hill where they participated in Mass. The evening lasted close to midnight as the boys had opportunities for Confession and Eucharistic Adoration.
"It's just beautiful," Bond said. "Seeing that I thought, I've got to have that here."
After a few phone calls and talks with IHM parochial administrator Fr. John Silva, the group of Timber Wolves (boys ages eight to 12) had their first meeting in September of last year with a couple boys, and by the end of the school year, the group had grown to 10 boys.
Timber Wolves meet
A typical meeting starts outside, giving the boys a chance to run around a little bit.
They follow that by sitting in a circle and each offer a prayer intention, followed by an "Our Father," a "Hail Mary," "Glory Be," and saying "I love you, Jesus" three times.
Next comes the Timber Wolf pledge, complete with a howl. As the evening goes on, the boys get reenergized with the chant of "Wolves . . . do your best!"
Still in the circle, the boys go over the upcoming Sunday Scripture readings. During a meeting back in mid-April, the week before Easter, Bond asked the boys what week it was on the liturgical calendar. After one of the boys correctly answered Holy Week, another boy, who couldn’t quite get his hand up in time, disappointedly exclaimed, "I was going to say Holy Week!"
"I really look forward to learning about the Scripture on Sunday and just the whole thing, it's fun," said Braden Mayo, one of the oldest members of the group.
Even if it's cold and windy outside, the boys aren't fazed; they’re ready to play games.
The games they play all involve problem solving and teamwork. They all root for each other.
"I like that I can be with other boys my age," said Nathan Tataje. "I really like that I can just hang out and talk about God."
"I like that you come and see your friends, and you get to play games and get to talk about God," said Logan Moreland.
On the previously mentioned evening before Easter, the boys and their leaders headed up to the church after the games to pray together, including singing the Divine Mercy Chaplet.
As prayer time came to a close, the boys and the leaders went back to the lower room again to end the evening with snacks and a chance for the boys to talk with each other.
"I look forward to meeting up with other friends and just talking to them, playing with them, and just talking about God with them," said Tataje.
Some of the boys and their leaders just returned from the annual summer camp in Canada. They also had a spring campout in May on some land northeast of Madison.
This summer, the scouts and leaders all consecrated their FNE movement to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Another important part of FNE is understanding and fostering vocations.
During one meeting, Fr. Greg Ihm, director of vocations for the Diocese of Madison, spoke with the boys and played games with them. Bond said a couple of the Timber Wolves are already thinking about a vocation to the priesthood.
"We support that," Bond said.
New this fall
Starting this fall, there will be an Explorers group for boys ages 13 to 17, as well as an Otters group for six and seven year olds to get started with FNE and "get them in uniform and get them excited," said Bond.
Also new this fall, there will be a group for girls ages six and a half to 17.
The Otters, Timber Wolves, and girl groups will meet at IHM on the first, third, and fifth Mondays of the month, starting sometime in September. Bond said the Explorers would likely meet every week on Mondays.
Bond also said having all of the groups meet on the same night allows families to come together if they have children in different groups. There will also be opportunities to meet as one large group on occasion.
For more information on the FNE programs in the Madison area, go to www.fneexplorers.org/northern-lights/ or contact Jeff Bond at 608-839-4312 or