Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in one of Connecticut’s largest news dailies. He holds an MS degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
Three years ago, the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in Arizona put their minds to raising funds to build a chapel and monastery in the Southwestern desert. They came up with a fun idea — have young and old alike run in an annual fundraiser named the Nun Run.
This year, their 3rd Annual Nun Run on March 10 attracted 1,135 participants at Kiwanis Park in Tempe, Ariz., to compete in a 10K run, 5K run/walk, or opt for a slower-paced 1-mile walk.
Others unable to travel to Arizona took part as “shadow participants.” Runners in several states and as far away as Rome and Zambia joined in — or will join in shortly — to total 270 shadow runners, who registered on the official Nun Run site. One couple traveled to Arizona from Maine to run.
In Tempe, Jill Sciarappo arrived at the park early in the morning and found “large groups of seriously happy men there to handle traffic, families with children setting up registration and snacks and, of course, the nuns smiling as usual.”
“I started the day full of energy and left with more than I arrived with,” she said.
Runners wore shirts designed by Sister Mary Fidelis based on this year’s motto from Isaiah 40:31: “You Shall Run and Not Grow Weary.”
Everyone came out for the big event, from grandmothers and grandfathers to youngsters. Many children were pushed along the course in strollers by their running parents.
The runners’ efforts raised funds to continue building Our Lady of Solitude Monastery. The previous Nun Runs helped raise funds for the chapel. Now that the chapel is completed and finishing touches just about done, except for some stained glass and choir stalls, the monastery enclosure walls are the next in line. After that the monastery quarters will be the focus, with rooms to be completed for 28 sisters.
“It’s a multimillion-dollar project and not going to be done in one Nun Run,” Sister John-Mark Maria told me. “The Lord provided this land for us, and the chapel is there for him. Now we’re chipping away to get the next stage of the monastery done.”
Our Lady of Solitude is rising like a vision of medieval beauty on land donated to the sisters in Tonopah, just west of Phoenix. The sisters arrived here in 2005 from Hanceville, Ala., to establish the first Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration monastery in the West and to become the first contemplative community of nuns in the Phoenix Diocese.
The Nun Runs are helping to bring the diocesan community together for this project. “The Lord has inspired a lot of good people to come out and help us,” said Sister John-Mark Maria. “A lot of people come together for Our Lord, and I experience that through the Nun Run. I’m very humbled, and I marvel in the Lord’s goodness.”
Goodness shines throughout this family-friendly event. The sisters awarded medals in many divisions, from competitive runners in top divisions right down to a category for 4-year-olds.
“We have a great balance, and that’s what we enjoy about the Nun Run,” said Sister John-Mark. “Everybody and anybody comes.”
With her full brown habit, with white veil flying in the wind, she herself not only ran in the 10K Run, but placed 20th out of 56 in that particular division.
The largest team of “shadow runners,” 28 total, is from St. Meinrad Seminary in Meinrad, Ind. These runners can clock their miles on a day they set themselves, so they chose to run on March 17. A slightly smaller group from the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, will run on March 24.
Shadow participants in Vatican City were organized by Phoenix seminarians at the North American College; another team participated in Grand Rapids, Mich.; and five families took part in Hawaii. A teacher at a Franciscan high school in Zambia even organized a shadow team there to do a walk.
This year, the Nun Run got some new attention. Not only did two Phoenix-area television stations report on the big doings, but a volunteer even got the Nun Run spotlighted on the news marquees in New York’s Times Square and Las Vegas.
Sister John-Mark liked the marquee idea. “If you see a nun, you think of the Lord,” she explained. “We were excited about that. Even if marquee spectators didn’t know what the Nun Run was about, the sight would bring a blessing to their hearts.”
Participants all felt blessed too. Dan and Cindy Ketcherside both agreed this year’s Nun Run was a huge success, as the many pictures can attest. “It was a compilation of eat, pray, love and friends. This should be a regular stop for the running community of Arizona. We’re glad we were involved.”
So is Sciarappo, who acted as a candid photographer. She remembers one young woman wearing a shirt that showed a nun and the saying: “Not all habits are bad.”
Certainly, the Nun Run is one of the best habits around.
Joseph Pronechen is the Register’s staff writer.