By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
KNOXVILLE — Earning Eagle Scout rank is a challenging endeavor — fewer than 2 percent of Boy Scouts are able to fulfill the rigorous requirements. Cris Patrick Schwanebeck, a member of St. Anthony Parish, was already a bit behind when he decided to go for this prestigious honor.
Aided by dedicated scout leaders, he threw himself into scouting during his freshman year of high school, trying to earn the necessary badges and move through the ranks before his 18th birthday. Little did he know that trying to put six years of work into four would be a minor challenge compared to the one that lay ahead. In that challenge, he would discover the importance of faith and the power of a supportive parish community.
After attending the national Scout Jamboree in the summer of 2013, Cris Patrick’s path — both in scouting and in life — became uncertain. The state-caliber cross-country runner, then about to enter his junior year of high school, suddenly found himself debilitated by severe migraine headaches.
Doctors diagnosed Cris Patrick with Charii Malformation Type II, in which the brain grows too quickly for the skull. To ease the pressure, doctors advised cutting a band in his skull. It wasn’t a simple surgery; doing this meant detaching and reattaching muscles in the neck and shoulders during surgery in order to reach the skull.
Cris Patrick was afraid and discouraged. Although he had “gone through the motions at church” since he was a child, he found himself turning to his Catholic faith on a personal level for the first time. His pastor at the time, Father Steve Ebel, offered constant counsel. “He was there when I was freaking out, as were my friends. … Through my faith I was able to have faith in the doctor, and believed that if the surgery didn’t work, God would take care of me somehow,” Cris Patrick said.
The surgery was a success, and Cris Patrick amazed doctors by being able to walk a few days afterwards. But rehab was lengthy and isolating. Though he was able to go to church and spend time with small groups of friends, he was advised by doctors not to go to large public places like school, movie theaters and the mall for three months after surgery in order to avoid infection. He wasn’t able to lift anything heavy for a year after surgery and was unable to carry his backpack at school for months. Exhaustion led to many days studying from home.
Through this time, Cris Patrick was able to see the generosity of his parish family, who offered him care packages and constant well-wishes. “Everyone being there just helped strengthen my faith even more.… It’s great to have parishioners that help each other,” he said.
Doctors believed Cris Patrick would need an extra 18 months to complete the Eagle Scout requirements because of the surgery and recovery; the Boy Scouts of America gave him just 90 extra days. Cris Patrick, buoyed by scout leaders and mentors, didn’t give up. He kept moving forward at whatever pace his body would allow. For his required service project, Cris Patrick built and placed bat houses for Marion County and Edwards Parks in Knoxville. He beat the deadline, exceeding his own expectations for himself in the process. “I learned lifelong leadership lessons and am a whole lot better leader than I would have been.”
At his Aug. 16 Eagle Scout ceremony, Cris Patrick first pinned his mother, Patty Schwanebeck, with the Eagle Scout Pin and she in turn pinned her son while his father, also named Cris, watched proudly. Surrounded by the young man’s family and friends, Father Jake Greiner, pastor of parishes in Knoxville and Melcher, offered the invocation and reframed the Scout prayer. He discussed the traits that are lauded in Boy Scouts and in the Catholic faith: loyalty, service, courtesy, kindness, obedience, cheerfulness, thriftiness, generosity, bravery and humility.
Knowing all his son had gone through to earn the Eagle Scout honor, Cris Patrick’s father said, “I am very proud of him.”
(T. Waldmann-Williams contributed to this story.)