May 21, 2021

Race for Vocations held in person after one-year hiatus due to pandemic

Members of the Race for Vocations team begin a 5K on May 8 at St. Michael Parish in Greenfield. The event was held in person this year after a one-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Members of the Race for Vocations team begin a 5K on May 8 at St. Michael Parish in Greenfield. The event was held in person this year after a one-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

GREENFIELD—Ordinarily, the annual Race for Vocations is run in conjunction with the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon and the Delta Dental 500 Festival 5K.

Dotted among the thousands who come to downtown Indianapolis to take part in the event have been runners and walkers wearing blue T-shirts that list the kinds of vocations in the Church with the additional message, “Everyone has a vocation. What’s yours?”

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the 500 Festival events have taken place virtually in 2020 and this year. The Race for Vocations also took a hiatus in 2020 during the height of pandemic.

This year, however, Race for Vocations organizers held the event in person on a brisk May 8 morning at St. Michael Parish in Greenfield.

The approximately 70 participants in the mini-marathon and 5K events started on the grounds of the Indianapolis East Deanery faith community, proceeded to the nearby Pennsy Trail and eventually made their way back to St. Michael.

Archdiocesan vocations director Father Michael Keucher has been a member of the Race for Vocations team for about 10 years, going back to his early years as a seminarian.

“It’s the smallest and most intimate one that I’ve run in,” he said, adding that “it was wonderful to be back. I think we were all ready to make a comeback and race again for vocations.”

Casey Deal was a member of the Race for Vocations team for the first time. He was in a position similar to Father Keucher when the priest first took part in the event.

Deal is a new archdiocesan seminarian. A member of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bloomington, he ran the 5K event and posted the fastest time at 19 minutes, 19 seconds.

“It was fun to see the other blue shirts that were out here for the Race for Vocations,” Deal said while catching his breath after crossing the finish line.

While he had been discerning a possible call to the priesthood for many years, the Race for Vocations was the first time that Deal had acted publicly as a seminarian. He was excited about it.

“It’s a new start in my life,” he said. “This is what I’m doing.”

During a Mass celebrated the evening before the Race for Vocations, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson offered words of encouragement for those taking part in both the 5K and mini-marathon in Greenfield.

“Running is a sport … where you’re out there on your own,” he said during the May 7 liturgy at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. “But we’re running for something more than ourselves. We’re running for our high school team, for our road team, for our college team, our grade school team. … We’re usually running for someone else.”

The archbishop noted he tries to run five times a week, which helps him deal with stress.

Reflecting on the second reading for the Mass (2 Tm 4:12, 6-8), the archbishop said Catholics must follow St. Paul’s advice to Timothy “to run the race when it is convenient and inconvenient, to persevere, [and] to never lose sight” of something greater than the race of life.

Archbishop Thompson shared a story from his running days at Bellarmine University in Louisville, where his college coach questioned him about his efforts. “You’re too comfortable. You’ve got to give more of yourself in that middle part of the race. You save it all for the end,” the coach told him.

“Jesus is telling us,” in the Gospel reading for the Mass (Jn 15:12-17), the archbishop said, “we cannot hold back, we have to extend ourselves, we have to give of ourselves,” Archbishop Thompson said.

We are called to follow Jesus’ example of love for us, he added.

“It is a love, that is ultimately … one of conviction, and not of mere emotion.”

Annie Byers shared that conviction of love as she ran the Race for Vocations 5K while pushing a jogging stroller with two of her children as passengers. The mother of six children also had two older sons run in the 5K—and finish ahead of her.

“I just wanted to pray for vocations and strengthen my own vocation,” said Byers, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Shelbyville. “So, when I go out for runs, I pray for my children and the children in the community, that they’ll listen to God’s voice in their lives and respond.”

Such prayers are music to the ears of Larry Kunkel, who has helped the Indiana Council Knights of Columbus organize the Knights-sponsored event for several years.

“I’m thrilled that we’re back,” said Kunkel, a member of St. Louis de Montfort Parish in Fishers, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese. “This is for vocations, which is near and dear to my heart. I’m so glad that we can do this.”

About 40 members of the Knights of Columbus assisted with the event, both at the start/finish line and at water stations along the route.

The Knights “are all about serving the Church,” said Kunkel, who serves as the life director for the Indiana State Council of the Knights of Columbus. “That’s why we exist, first and foremost. We try, from a vocations standpoint, to do whatever we can to help the Church and the seminarians. Vocations is really who we are as Knights.”

Two Catholic young adults posted the fastest men’s and women’s times in the mini-marathon.

Jacob Heintzelman, a freshman at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, ran the 13.1 miles in

1 hour and 40 minutes. Sarah Mahnesmith, a freshman at Butler University in Indianapolis, posted a time of 1 hour and 44 minutes in the mini-marathon.

“It was really great,” said Heintzelman. “I love running and praying. I loved the atmosphere, everybody was waving as you were going by.”

“It was big just not to run alone,” said Mahnesmith. “Having other people to run with, having them from the Catholic community and having them all run for the same reason was pretty awesome.”

(Editor Mike Krokos contributed to this story.)

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