British Catholic Scouts’ Pilgrimage to Rome, 1925

Boy Scouts for Rome

This article originally appeared on p. 12 of The Tablet on September 5, 1925. I have modernized some of the punctuation.

I can’t recall where I originally found the included photograph, which appears to record the event.


Amid scenes of enthusiasm the contingent of 756 British Boy Scouts who go to take part in the International Pilgrimage to Rome, left Victoria Station on Saturday evening. For half an hour before the departure of the special train at 8 o’clock the platform was packed, many Catholics coming from long distances to wish the Scout pilgrims and their leaders God-speed on their memorable journey. The occasion and its significance led to many touching scenes, and not a few were deeply affected as the train moved out with its load of cheerful Catholic boys on their way to Rome.

Earlier in the evening the Scouts assembled in the Choir School grounds of Westminster Cathedral, where large numbers of clergy and laity came to greet them. They gave an enthusiastic reception to the Cardinal Archbishop when His Eminence appeared, accompanied by the Italian Ambassador, the Marquis della Torretta, and Sir Robert Baden-Powell (Chief Scout) with a guard of honour composed of Scouts representative of all parts of the Kingdom. A special flag made for the pilgrims and inscribed “British Empire Catholic Boy Scouts. Be Prepared. Rome, 1925,” and a Union Jack, carried by two Scouts of the “Cardinal’s Own” troop (8th Westminster), were blessed by His Eminence, assisted by Father Joseph Collings.

Archbishop of Westminster Francis Cardinal Bourne (with Lord Baden-Powell to his left) blessing the flags

Archbishop of Westminster Francis Cardinal Bourne (with Lord Baden-Powell to his left) blessing the flags

The clergy present included Mgr. Canon Howlett, Admr. of Westminster Cathedral, Mgri. Canon Jackman and Coote (Private Secretaries to the Cardinal), Father Bradley, C.SS.R. (who escorted the contingent from Edmonton), Fathers O’Brien England, Wood, Dove, McKenna, and G. Craven. The Catholic Association, which is directing the pilgrimage, was represented by Father Ernest Hanifin (Chairman), Mr. H. Wallack, organizing secretary, Mr. W. A. Stuart, hon. secretary, and by many members of the Committee.

The pilgrimage was divided into eight groups. The names of the commanders and chaplains, and the total strength of each group, are as follows:

  • Group A — Leader: Thomas McQuillan; Chaplain, Rev. P. M. Butler, C.SS.R. (94).
  • Group B — Leader: Rev. G. Tindall, M.A.; Chaplain, Rev. G. Brunner (96).
  • Group C — Leader: W. K. Buckley; Chaplains, Rev. T. A. Reardon and Rev. Thomas Eastham, S.J. (96)
  • Group D — Leader: Rev. J. Higham; Chaplain, Rev. Dom Parker, O.S.B. (96).
  • Group E — Leader: Rev. J. P. Haslip; Chaplain, Rev. J. M. Tucker, O.S.M. (94).
  • Group F — Leader: Rev. E. C. Messenger, Ph.D.; Chaplain, Rev. G. W. H. Webb (84).
  • Group G — Leader: G. E. Wheeler; Chaplain, Rev. J. Blundell (96).
  • Group H — Leader: Rev. C. Westlake (87).

Father James Mahoney, Ph.D., of Deptford, who travelled as the representative of the Catholic Association, and Father Joseph Collings, are also acting as Chaplains. The pilgrimage is under the command of Mr. F. F. Corballis, Chief Scout’s Commissioner, with Lieut.-Colonel J. L. Sleeman, C.M.G., as Assistant Commissioner; and the other officers include Mr. M. G. Dunlop (Cardinal’s Own Troop), with Dr. R. Power, F.R.C.S., M.D., and Captain Mullins, M.D., R.A.M.C., medical officers.

His lordship Bishop Butt accompanies the party as spiritual director.


The Cardinal Archbishop, in addressing the Scouts, said: “I want in the first place to congratulate you all most heartily on the wonderful journey on which you are about to set forth. There are hundreds and thousands who would willingly make the journey that you are going to undertake — many of them much older than yourselves — who would willingly have made this journey, who probably will never make it. It is only to a very few that it is given in boyhood to make the journey which I suppose appeals to the Catholic heart more than any other. To every one of you Rome has been a sacred name; a sacred name because it contains the shrines of those who at the cost of their lives built up in the early days of Christianity that world-wide organization known as the Catholic Church to which you all belong; a sacred name because Rome is also the dwelling place of him wham we are taught to regard as the most sacred person upon This earth, him in whom are verified the words of our Divine Master, ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.’

“To every Catholic, to every Catholic boy, the name of Rome means something which is deep down in his very heart, something that he loves and cherishes with all his being. You are asked to make a pilgrimage, a pilgrimage such as our forefathers in days long ago made whenever they had the opportunity, to see him in whom Peter lives again, to see him in whom the Catholic Church finds her centre. Well, my dear boys, there are two things that you must bear in mind. You go, remember, in a spirit of faith, in a spirit of prayer. You go in a spirit of faith for the reasons that I have already rehearsed before you; you go to proclaim your faith in the teaching authority of God’s Catholic Church. You go, too, in the spirit of prayer; because you are going to gain the great jubilee pardon, but only in a spirit of penance, in a spirit of penitence, at those sacred shrines in Rome, begging God’s forgiveness for all transgressions in the past, and seeking His charity and protection for your whole future lives. That is the spirit in which you will set forth and must never forget. You go not only as individuals, but in the far higher capacity of representatives. Large as you numbers are, you are only a handful of those whom you represent, and you go carrying with you in the spirit of prayer the intentions of all your fellow Scouts all over the United Kingdom, and of all of those who made your going possible — your parents who gave their consent, and those friends who have provided for the journey. Be brave and courageous under the inevitable fatigue and discomfort of so long a journey.

“It is a special satisfaction to me to have present beside me, first, His Excellency the Italian Ambassador, whose beautiful country you are about to visit, a country united by so many ties to our own land. You will be a new link binding England to Italy and Italy to England. And then I can hardly say how glad I am to have beside me the Chief Scout. I was saying to him only a moment ago that it is given to few men, as it has been given to him, to see the full realization of a magnificent vision. All over the world there are now Boy Scouts, united — though they may be divided by languages and by religious faith — in the pursuit of certain great ideals which he has set before them, ideals which will do, as he desires them to do, an immense work, to bring together all the nations of the earth in mutual peace and understanding. It is, as yoa know, to his genius and foresight and wonderful power of organization that the world owes the Boy Scouts. So, from my heart, I bid you all God-speed, a pleasant and happy journey, and a safe return. May God bless you all.”


Sir Robert Baden-Powell then addressed the Scouts. He said: “I do thank His Eminence most cordially for his kindness in taking the trouble to receive us all here and to give us these inspiring words. Now, you fellows, I only wish I was going with you; but, as my doctor says, I am too much of a crock. You are going off to have a really good time, seeing a foreign land, and meeting your brother Scouts. It will be just like any jamboree in one way, but, as His Eminence said, you must look on this with another eye. It is not a mere scouting ‘hike,’ but a pilgrimage. You are going with a far better idea than meeting other boys; you are going for what will be the greatest event in the life of any of you — the great privilege of going to Rome and seeing with your own eyes, and being seen by, the Holy Father. That is a privilege which a very large number of Scouts would wish to have with you. You certainly have to think that over; and when you say your prayers just think of what His Eminence has told you of the serious side of it. You will meet 10,000 other Catholic Scouts from different countries, and they will look to you as coming from the home of scouting to teach them what is the true method of scouting and what true Scouts are. They will watch in every way all that you do, how you dress, how you behave, how far you carry out your good turns, how far you are cheerful, and they will do accordingly. So you have a big responsibility upon you; because you have got to keep up the good name of the British Scouts among all those who come from other parts. Be brothers to them, help them; but above all I want you to do one great thing, and that is by your behaviour and conduct to show to the heads of your Church there in Rome that as Scouts you have not two masters, but that your only master is God and your Church. Your scoutmasters are merely your elder brothers, showing you how better to do your duty as good Catholics. I want you to remember that and to obey the discipline of your Church. Remember this is the great day of your lives. It is the spirit that counts, and what you do in the right spirit. I want you to remember that, now and while you are abroad. Try and make the most of these coming days in the right spirit; and come back from Rome better men for having been there.” The Chief Scout concluded by asking God’s blessing on his hearers.

After tea, the Scout pilgrims formed up and marched round by Ambrosden Avenue, Francis Street, and Vauxhall Bridge Road to Victoria. Their departure was witnessed from the balcony of Archbishop’s House by the Cardinal, and as each troop passed His Eminence its flag was dipped. It was intended that, on the return from Rome, the party should spend three days in camp at Chamarande, but advice has been received from Paris that the camp arrangements at Chamarande (which is thirty miles from Paris, and is conducted by Père Sevin, the Chief Scout of France) have had to be cancelled. It is hoped, therefore, to keep the Scout-pilgrims in Rome three days extra, leaving Rome on the evening of September 10, and following out the original itinerary back to London direct.

A telegram from Rome announces the safe arrival of the Scouts on Tuesday morning.

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