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October 25, 2009

Running on faith for 26.2 long miles

By Pam DeFiglio


Derek Ho ran to support an increase in vocations. Tony DeSapio ran for the students who have made much longer journeys to his school, St. Gregory’s. And six people from Holy Name Cathedral Parish ran to keep a roof over their fellow parishioners’ heads.

They all represent Catholic groups whose faith motivated them to go the 26.2 mile distance in the Chicago Marathon Oct. 11.

Ho and Chris Kerzich, both 26 and both seminarians at the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary, laced up their running shoes for the Run for Vocations effort.

“Derek and I started Run for Vocations to run the marathon, but also to do it in a way that supports an increase in vocations,” said Kerzich. This is the program’s first year, and they hope to continue it.

Their Web site,, asks visitors to pray for an increase in vocations and make donations, which will be divided among the archdiocese’s Office of Vocations, the seminary and individual seminarians in need.

Father Steve Bauer, an archdiocesan priest from the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Newman Center, ran with them.

Kerzich hoped the effort raised awareness of vocations to the marathon’s 40,000 runners and 1.2 million spectators.

“Other guys may be athletic and may be thinking about serving God,” he said. “This is a way to show people seminarians are normal guys, and maybe it will be a call to guys who are discerning.”

Running with prayer

While Kerzich has run three marathons, this will be the first for Ho, who said he finds running an excellent time to pray.

“It’s amazing the ability the human spirit has to endure pain,” said Ho. He said if he hears an ambulance while he’s running, he offers up the pain for the people the ambulance is serving, or for anyone in need.

DeSapio says he’s running to go the extra mile for students at St. Gregory High School, where he is president.

“I deeply appreciate the efforts our students put in to come here, and I’m running out of appreciation for how far our students journey to go to St. Greg’s,” he said.

Some of the students make a long journey daily, taking three buses to come to the North Side school from neighborhoods like South Lawndale.

Others are refugees who have made a long journey from countries such as Sudan, Congo, Burma and Nepal.

DeSapio and the team’s other nine members have a Web site, www.stgregorymarathon. org, and wanted to raise $1,500 per mile.

If it could do that, the Big Shoulders Fund, which supports needy Catholic schools, would give them a $30,000 matching grant, and it would help pay tuition for students whose families can’t afford it.

Running for the roof

At Holy Name, Joanne Singleton, a member of the parish pastoral council, suggested a marathon as a way to raise money after a part of the cathedral’s roof fell in February 2008. When fire damaged it further in February 2009, the need was even greater. She has asked each of the six runners to raise $300.

“So it’s $1,800 we didn’t have before,” she said.

Each group had a Mass the night before to kick off the marathon. Holy Name also had a fundraising pasta dinner, and Holy Cross Father Sean McGraw did a “sneaker blessing” of the St. Greg’s runners’ shoes at Mass. Then they had a reception with Gatorade, granola bars and other runners’ fare.