TORRINGTON – Priests and seminarians are getting in shape for what they believe will be a unique seven-day, 350-mile bike pilgrimage to Emmitsburg, Md., May 29 to June 4 to pray and raise money for Catholic schools.
“It’s not a race, it’s a pilgrimage of prayer,” said organizer Father James Sullivan, 54, parochial vicar for the Torrington Cluster of Churches and a lifelong bicycle enthusiast.
“Each priest will be riding for his school, as we pray for our schools all the way.
“We hope to raise $50,000 to $100,000 for each school,” with per-mile sponsorships from parishioners and other donors, he said.
“I’ve never heard of a group of priests or seminarians doing anything like this,” said Father Sullivan, who is calling the pilgrimage Our Father’s Ride. “We’re very excited about it.”
The spark for the trip came while talking with his sister, Sister Veronica Mary Sullivan of the Sisters of Life, about his passion for Catholic education and the need for funds for schools.
Father Sullivan noted that before his ordination last year, “I was a contractor … I owned a building and restoration business with my brother,” in Waterbury. “So I’ve always been aware of the necessity of funds and the importance of being solvent.”
So when the conversation with his sister turned to walks as a way to raise funds, it quickly jumped to the idea of riding bikes. The next thought leap led to Emmitsburg – a cradle of Catholic education where Mother Elizabeth Seton founded schools – as the destination for the pilgrimage. And the rest fell into place.
“I’ve always been an avid bike rider and thought of it as an out-of-the-box way to raise money for our schools,” said Father Sullivan. “So we contacted the Archdiocesan Superintendent of Schools, Dale Hoyt, for his support, and met with Archbishop Blair for his blessing.”
Riders from the three Connecticut Catholic dioceses will depart from the Lourdes in Litchfield Shrine on May 29 following morning prayer and a blessing of bicycles at 10 a.m.
Prior to that, Father Sullivan will hop on his 25-year-old Connecticut-made Cannondale bike, and ride eight miles to the shrine with a police escort along with the older students, their parents and the principal of St. Peter-St. Francis School in Torrington.
“People can donate any amount of money from $3.50 for a penny a mile, to $350 for a dollar a mile,” said Father Sullivan. He said information is available at www.ourfathersride.com. “We already have a $25,000 donor from Torrington.”
The riders expect to be joined along the way by priests and seminarians from dioceses in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland, who have been contacted through their bishops to join the pilgrimage in support of their schools.
Riders will travel at their own pace along lightly traveled roads, stop at selected churches and schools along the way, lodge at area hotels and begin each day with morning Mass.
“We’re going to be very safety conscious with reflectors, bright orange safety vests and helmets,” he said. And “all priests and seminarians will wear their clerical shirt and collar that can be seen under reflective shirts.”
The trip is fully supported by a supply truck that will go back and forth all day along the route, stocked with bike parts, food and medical equipment, he said. A second van will also be in tow for riders who get tired and want to take a break.
Father Sullivan, whose longest lifetime bike ride was about 200 miles from Hyannis on Cape Cod to Waterbury, said that even slower riders will be able to finish the daily 50 miles (which is considered a moderate distance) in six or seven hours.
“We’ll be praying for our schools along the way,” said Father Sullivan, who is expecting a total contingent of 50 to 100 riders. “I’ve always found bike riding to be an opportunity for a retreat, as well as a time of prayer and contemplation,” he said.
The pilgrimage will conclude June 4 at Mount St. Mary Seminary near the Shrine of St. Elizabeth Seton. “The shrine and seminary are very excited that we’re coming,” said Father Sullivan. A welcoming station is being arranged along with overnight lodging at the seminary, where participants will have prayer, dinner and an evening of fraternity.
The bikes and riders will return home the next day by truck and van.
Father Sullivan even plans to communicate with his school’s children via Skype, providing daily accounts of the pilgrimage, and to produce a 20-minute video for parishioners.
“It all came as an inspiration in prayer,” said the enthusiastic Father Sullivan. “We’re riding for Catholic education, but it’s also to promote the priesthood, vocations and priestly fraternity – not to mention promote good health. So it’s a win, win, win.”