First Place Award for General Excellence, Catholic Press Association, 2013-2016

Running, Religion Go Together for Cathedral’s Marathon Priest
By JOHN WOODS
Maria R. Bastone
BLESSING–At runners’ Mass he celebrated at St. Patrick’s Cathedral the evening before this year’s ING New York City Marathon, Father Joseph Tyrrell sprinkles holy water on marathoners who gather in the sanctuary.

Father Joseph Tyrrell has found numerous ways to integrate the ING New York City Marathon, which he completed for the second time Nov. 7, with his priesthood.

On the day before this year’s race through the city’s five boroughs, for instance, hundreds of marathoners attended the 5:30 p.m. Mass he celebrated at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The runners are invited into the sanctuary where a prayer is said over them, and later a blessing is given before they leave the cathedral.

And just a few hours after completing this year’s 26.2-mile race in 4:35:24, the 51-year-old priest managed to celebrate the cathedral’s 5:30 p.m. Sunday Mass, even finding himself able to genuflect at the altar and to descend the stairs from the sanctuary to distribute Communion.

He was especially happy to see about 50 fellow marathoners wearing their medals from the race. “That’s worth the price of admission for me,” he said in an interview a couple of days after the marathon.

Reflecting on the post-marathon Mass, he had earlier told CNY, “Looking out at all of those people wearing their medals, I thought, ‘This is what we’re all about, thanking God.’ ”

Father Tyrell said he felt a lot less sore after the grueling race this year. With one completed marathon already under his belt, he knew that finishing the race would not be a problem as long as he kept to his training pace without trying to push himself for a better time.

“It’s the advantage of having run the marathon once before,” said Father Tyrrell, who finished last year’s marathon in 4:08.

Father Tyrrell has served as master of ceremonies at the cathedral for a little more than two years, responsibilities that give the tall, youthful-looking priest a prominent place at the most famous cathedral in America.

His present assignment also puts him about 10 blocks from Central Park, where he does most of his running. He doesn’t leave religion behind on his training runs, however, as his iPod is often tuned to narrations of books of the Bible.

“It’s very refreshing to run and to listen to the Bible,” said Father Tyrell, who listened to the Acts of the Apostles twice during this year’s marathon.

Father Tyrrell, who generally trains by himself, often runs from 25 to 30 miles per week, with a high this year of 35. But he is not a veteran long-distance runner; he grew up playing hockey and pole-vaulting in his native Chicago. He took up walking on a treadmill about a decade ago after his weight hit 250 pounds and his blood pressure and cholesterol had gotten too high. As his weight came down (he’s now 200 pounds), he was ready to give running a try.

On days such as Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, when St. Patrick’s schedule is full and crowded with people, Father Tyrrell enjoys the solitude offered by a five-mile training run.

“It clears my head and puts me at peace,” he said.

Marathon Sunday in New York City is a spectacle like very few other events, of course. Setting out from the Staten Island side of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, with some 43,000 other runners, packed side by side, is an “awesome” experience, Father Tyrrell said. “It’s great to be among that many people doing the same thing,” he said.

The excitement mounts as crowds of New Yorkers cheer the competitors for their every move, Father Tyrrell said. He had his own band of supporters, some of the cathedral’s altar servers and young adult group members who raised their voices for him as he strode past them on First Avenue and 117th Street in East Harlem.
This year, he wore a shirt promoting NYPriest.com, the Web site for the archdiocesan office for vocations to the priesthood. A little further down First Avenue, he was surprised to see a group of seminarians wearing the same shirts. “It’s a real shot in the arm to see that,” he said.

His marathon run also served as a fund-raiser for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. By Nov. 10, he had raised nearly 90 percent of his $10,000 goal. (To donate: http://main.nationalmssociety.org/site/TR?px=6865739&fr_id=13714&pg=personal).

He also dedicated miles along the route to different causes and people who are important to him, including those with MS, pro-life issues, his deceased parents and vocations.

Father Tyrrell is not the cathedral’s only marathoner. Lector Kathy Dwyer, who posted a 5:05 finish, is a veteran of marathons and triathlons. The running crowd also has a big booster in Msgr. Robert Ritchie, the cathedral rector, who established the runners’ Mass. “He loves it,” said Father Tyrrell, who said that because of the training involved he asks for permission months ahead of time to run in the big race.

Recalling the long history of marathon running, dating to when runners would bring good news from the battlefront on foot, Father Tyrrell noted the correlation between his priestly vocation and running avocation.

“My vocation is to bring the Good News,” he said. “Any type of training that I do is part of that.”

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