Pedaling Catholic Education
Father James Sullivan and ‘Our Father’s Ride’
Editor's Note: Read the entire interview here.
Father James Sullivan was ordained in May 2014 for the Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn. His journey took him from co-owning a home-contracting company with his brother to the priesthood. Today, he serves a group of parishes in Torrington, Conn. Now, his love for the priesthood and Catholic education combine with his lifelong interest in bicycling in “Our Father’s Ride,” a fundraising cycling tour of priests and seminarians from Torrington to Emmitsburg, Md., which he is leading this spring, with the support of Archbishop Leonard Blair and others.
How and why did you form “Our Father’s Ride”?
Being a new priest and a priest in a parish with a school, I have quickly come to love and appreciate Catholic education even more than I have in the past. I have a great love for the children in the school, too. My own love for the Church was developed and nurtured greatly by my own Catholic education as a child.
It’s no secret that the majority of schools need significant fundraising efforts in order to operate properly. Speaking recently to my sister, Sister Veronica Mary Sullivan of the Sisters of Life, about this, she knew how much I loved bicycle riding — I’ve been an avid bike rider all my life. She said, “Why don’t you do that to raise funds and to promote the school?”
We decided to have a destination. We picked Emmitsburg, Md., because of the connection with Sister Elizabeth Ann Seton, who is credited with beginning the parochial school system in the United States. This ride and destination — the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg — is going to be a pilgrimage of prayer for the school and an opportunity to raise funds for it.
When will this pilgrimage ride take place?
We’re leaving on May 29, from our [St. Peter/St. Francis] school in Torrington and riding seven miles to the Lourdes in Litchfield Shrine in Litchfield, Conn. I’m going to ride myself, and the older school children, the principal of the school and parents are going to be riding with me for those seven miles through the scenic Litchfield landscape to the shrine. Other priests will join me there. We will have the formal sendoff at 10am, after Morning Prayer and the blessing of the bikes. Then we’ll travel 50 miles a day.
What are you personally aiming to raise for your school?
My goal is to raise between $100,000 and $150,000. In Torrington, we already have a $25,000 matching-gift donor. I think other schools can do the same. It’s such a unique fundraising opportunity that people will gravitate to it.
It’s one thing to ask a person for a $100 donation for the school. It’s an entirely different question to ask, “Will you support me in a pilgrimage of prayer for our school if your priest is riding 350 miles? Will you give me 35 cents a mile?”
People are already saying, “Father, I would love to help you on this.” They see their priest putting in a strong effort out of love for the school. Every priest will be riding for his own school.
Is this only for priests and seminarians from your diocese?
We’re inviting priests from all over Connecticut and from “wherever.” As we go through New York, we hope to pick up New York priests; the same from New Jersey and Pennsylvania. We’re going to contact the bishops of other dioceses along the route for their support. Priests anywhere, from up to 500 miles from the national shrine, can also join us. We all will meet there on the same day. We already seem to have some interest from priests in other dioceses.
Are you doing anything special along the way so that people know these are priests riding?
We’re riding in our clerics. Bike shorts are black anyway. We’re going to have very safe orange reflector shirts and beneath that a V-neck to see our black clerical shirts and the collar. So we’re going to ride as priests and seminarians. That’s going to be very unique. Hopefully, we’ll be seeing 50 to 100 priests riding together.
Do you have any goals for along the way?
If any Catholic schools in the towns we are going through would like it, we will stop in maybe during the school day to give a talk about the ride itself and about Catholic education. This is a way to let them [the children and parents] see the love priests have for Catholic schools.
Since school will be in session, every day we’re going to Skype the schools we’re all riding for. Before the school day starts, the kids are going to see how we’re doing and where we are, so they can follow us along the way. We’ll be praying for them, so students can pray for us while we’re riding. It’s going to generate a lot of enthusiasm, not only among clergy, but among students and parents.
Have you done much long-distance bicycling yourself?
I’ve done bike riding for many years in different parts of the country. My bike is a 1990 Cannondale made in Connecticut. It turns 25 this year! My bike has essentially ridden around the world.
My bike riding is an opportunity for a retreat, a time of prayer and contemplation. I’ve been doing that for years and years. On a number of occasions, I rode to the National Shrine of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., on a pilgrimage of prayer.
In the ’90s, before becoming a deacon, I rode from the Basilica of Notre Dame in Montreal to my home in Connecticut and stopped at many churches along the way. Whenever I saw a Catholic church, I stopped in and said a prayer.
What are your overall hopes for this pilgrimage ride?
It’s for Catholic education, and, at the same time, it’s also to promote the priesthood, vocations and priestly fraternity, not to mention good health. I really think we’re going to have a wonderful time together as priests. I believe this pilgrimage can, by God’s grace, be tremendously successful, wonderful for both the priesthood and for Catholic education.
Joseph Pronechen is the
Register’s staff writer.