Priests at the Heart of the Run for Vocations

October 14, 2011

The diagnosis was frightening: an aortic aneurysm with imminent surgery. The young man knew the situation was serious. He turned to his pastor and other priests for support, prayers and guidance. Now that young man will be at the starting line with the rest of the Archdiocese of Washington’s “Run for Vocations” 10K team at the 2011 Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday, October 30, 2011.

Conor Dugan, a parishioner of St. Peter’s Church on Capitol Hill, ran in high school and has since enjoyed participating in road races. But in 2009, his running days were halted when he learned he had to have open-heart surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm. Dugan turned to friend and priest, Fr. Andrew Royals at St. Elizabeth in Rockville, who had undergone a similar surgery and, in fact, had the same surgeon. Fr. Royals talked Dugan through what to expect about the surgery as only someone who had been in the same situation could have done. But it was his quiet actions in the hospital after the surgery that left such a great impression on Dugan. “After my family left for the night, I was fading in and out of lucidity, when I noticed a man in black come into my room,” Dugan said. “It was Fr. Royals praying and just being present to me. It may seem like a small gesture, but to me it was a great source of peace and calm when I was in great discomfort. His silent presence really moved me then and it still moves me now.”

This will be Dugan’s first race post surgery. He said he is running the 10K because the priests were such a big part of his life and walked with him through surgery and recovery. “My running is a small way to honor the priests who accompanied me on the journey from diagnosis through surgery to health. The discernment leading up to surgery, the preparation for surgery, and the post-surgery time impressed upon me the incredible vocation of the priesthood — that these were truly men for others. I had priests walking with me on that journey the whole way.”

The 2011 Run for Vocations team is made up of 212 participants—up from 180 participants last year. This year, 47 will run in the full marathon, 165 will participate in the 10K. Four priests and 15 seminarians are on the team.

Among them is Br. Ignacio González, a veteran of the United States Marine Corps who joined St. Anselm’s Abbey three years ago. “I couldn’t be happier with my life as a monk and am running not only to support the archdiocese’s seminarians, but also to witness to new life at our monastery,” said Br. González.

Each runner has a minimum fundraising goal of $500 for the full Marathon and $250 for the 10K. This amount is significantly lower than other charity teams. Funds raised through the team are used to cover unexpected expenses for seminarians, including medical costs, travel expenses in the event of a family emergency and spiritual enrichment opportunities. Last year, the team raised over $66,000.

Fr. Patrick Riffle, parochial vicar at St. Peter’s on Capitol Hill, said while he doesn’t enjoy running, he is learning “the art of running and slowly starting to enjoy it more.” This will be Fr. Riffle’s first marathon. He is participating in the Run for Vocations team after receiving funds raised from the event when he was a seminarian. “I had to have some medical work done, and it was not all covered by insurance. Without this help, I am not sure I would have been able to pay for the test. I knew then that I would participate in the Run for Vocations after I was ordained.” Fr. Riffle has been training since June, running four days a week and is now up to 18 miles.

“I remember what it was like as a seminarian and I know what they go through daily as they study, pray and discern. They do make many sacrifices, and I want them to know that I support them, especially as a priest,” said Fr. Riffle. “This is great way to give back to the Church, and it is fun. It is also a great way to evangelize and speak about the beauty of the Catholic Faith, especially the gift of the priesthood.”

“The Run for Vocations has been a great gift to the Archdiocese of Washington. It brings together people who are passionate about supporting vocations to the priesthood,” said Fr. Carter Griffin, Director for Priest Vocations for the Archdiocese of Washington and the Vice Rector for the new Blessed John Paul II Seminary.

“What makes this program unique is a spiritual element that will enable the participants to grow in holiness by offering prayers and sacrifices for the good of our future priests and the Church,” said Msgr. Robert Panke, rector of the new Blessed John Paul II Seminary and the Director of Formation for all the seminarians of the archdiocese.

“By their sacrifices, their prayers, and the generosity of those who support them, the runners have made a real difference in building a culture of vocations in the archdiocese and in supporting those who have said ‘yes’ to God’s call,” Fr. Griffin said.

Currently, 73 men are studying for the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Washington, including 35 in college and pre-theology studies.

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The Archdiocese of Washington is home to over 600,000 Catholics living in Washington, DC and five Maryland counties: Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s.

Brie Hall
Office of Communications
[email protected]