by Marc and Julie Anderson
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It started as a simple challenge among friends back in the summer of 2008: Run a 5K race together.
That’s “K” as in kilometer, five in a row being a little more than three miles.
The challenger was Father Scott Wallisch, who was a seminarian at the time. The challengees were newly ordained Father Greg Hammes and then-seminarian Father Nathan Haverland.
“We were all living at Curé of Ars Parish in Leawood at the time,” said Father Wallisch. “It was kind of fun for the three of us to be there.”
Father Hammes was a new associate pastor, and the two seminarians were doing summer pastoral work. Father Wallisch was the runner, and he wanted to introduce the fun of running to the other two.
“I used to putter around a bit even before Father Scott challenged me,” said Father Hammes. “I was speedy at the time, but I didn’t have much endurance.”
Father Haverland had less experience than Father Hammes, but gamely joined in the training.
Their first race was the Sanctuary of Hope 5K run in Kansas City, Kansas. Father Wallisch finished first. Father Hammes did OK, but Father Haverland struggled. The end of the race was up a big, big hill.
That’s when brotherly love kicked in.
Father Wallisch — who that day completed two 5Ks — ran back and finished the last leg with Father Haverland.
After that summer, each man went his separate way.
Father Wallisch is now archdiocesan vocations director and resident at the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.
Running remains a part of their lives — less so for Father Haverland, who had a seven-year gap before picking it up again in 2015.
Although their day jobs make it difficult for them to coordinate, the priests have managed to run in a few of the same races.
Father Hammes said he couldn’t count the number of races he’s run since 2008. These include the 5K, the half marathon of 13.1 miles, and the full marathon at 26.1 miles.
“I ran my first [marathon] in 2011,” said Father Hammes. “I run one every year.”
The races he’s run include the “Running with the Cows,” sponsored by Queen of the Holy Rosary in Bucyrus- Wea; his own parish’s Summerfest 5K Fun Run/Walk; and his sixth Kansas City Marathon on Oct. 15.
Father Hammes takes pride in being able to challenge himself and to train. Training gives him quiet time to listen to a meditation on his phone, pray the Divine Mercy chaplet or just contemplate the Sunday Mass readings. He’s even had time to mull over homilies while running.
Father Haverland said running is his “prayerful time alone.”
“It’s just a beautiful time to be with God by myself,” he said. The River Rail Trail near Marysville, with its rural setting, allows for contemplation of God’s creation.
He’d completed three half marathons in the past year and thought he was ready for the next challenge: the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 9. For this one, he wanted the Holy Spirit to guide him.
One way of entering the Chicago Marathon is through a lottery. Father Haverland was surprised when his name was selected, but “Deus vult” — “God wills it”!
The night before the race, he concelebrated — in his running shoes — the annual Runners’ Mass at Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral. Although he was the only concelebrant/runner at the Mass, he assumed there might have been other running priests.
“I’m guessing out of 40,000 runners there was another priest, but I’m not aware of one,” he said. “I was the only one at the Mass.”
He wanted to finish in five hours. He realized during the second half that that wouldn’t happen. He crossed the finish line at five hours and 30 minutes.
“At that point, I didn’t care,” he said. “I was just trying to finish.”
Running is a lot like the spiritual life of a Christian, said Father Wallisch, who has contemplated writing a book on the subject.
The saints are like runners who’ve finished the race and won their crowns, but they help us through their prayers and show us we can overcome the challenges as they did, he said.
“[Running] is also like prayer,” said Father Wallisch. “If you show up every day and put in time training and are faithful, your spiritual muscles will get stronger and you can pray more and pray deeper, and find more spiritual fruit in your prayer,” he added.
The three may yet run together again. Father Hammes and Father Haverland have signed up for the Berlin Marathon in 2017. Father Wallisch is still — prayerfully — considering it.
Additional reporting by Joe Bollig.