Two priests and three seminarians are about to bike their way up the entire East Coast in hopes of raising awareness about religious vocations along the way. The team is en route by car to Florida and will begin a month-long ride from the Diocese of St. Augustine, Fla., which is observing the 450th year of a Catholic presence in the America.
The priests are Father Marc Swartvagher, a member of the faculty at Cathedral Seminary House of Formation in Douglaston; and Father Joseph Fitzgerald, who was raised in St. Patrick’s parish, Bay Ridge, and now serves as diocesan vocations director for the Diocese of Rockville Centre.
The three college seminarians include Steven Diaz, who is studying for the Archdiocese of New York; Dominik Wegiel, a native of Holy Cross parish, Maspeth, who is studying for the Diocese of Rockville Centre; and Stephen Rooney, of Rockville Centre.
The idea – which has been named Biking4Vocations – came from Rooney, who last summer pedaled across the U.S. with an organization called “Bike and Build.”
“We biked from Providence, Rhode Island, to San Francisco in order to raise money and awareness for affordable housing,” he said.
He said he wanted to do something that had more of a spiritual component and he reached out to his fellow seminarians.
Father Swartvagher explains that the cyclists will travel 1,400 miles through 15 dioceses in 11 states. Along the way, vocation directors in those dioceses are supplying lodging and food and also setting up youth and parish events at which they will speak about vocations to the priesthood. They plan to travel between 50 and 80 miles a day, with only a couple days set aside for rest.
If all goes according to plan, they should arrive back in New York on Friday, June 12 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan. On the morning of Saturday, June 13, they will be at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, and then it’s on to St. Joseph’s Co-Cathedral in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, for Mass and a chance to recap their adventures with young people.
Father Fitzgerald, a former Olympic athlete, played on the U.S. Team Handball squad in the 1996 Games in Atlanta, Ga. A college baseball and football player at Ithaca, he also played professional handball in Sweden.
The five men in black have been working out for months, riding their bikes for two hours, for about 30 miles, each day.
“Sometimes, we do road work and other days we’re on stationary bikes,” said Father Swartvagher, who recently was appointed pastor of Our Lady of Grace parish, Howard Beach.
While Father Swartvagher admits to some trepidation in the final week of preparation, he said the seminarians are more concerned with their final exams and papers that are due this week.
They appeared loose and ready to roll in a publicity photo shoot on the portico of Cathedral Seminary House of Formation. They joked and posed for a video that has a sound track of “Our God Is an Awesome God.” That’s the message they hope to deliver as they embark on this pilgrimage for vocations.
To stay in touch with the men’s progress, there is a website (www.biking4vocations.org), a Facebook page, and a Twitter account. The group also will be checking in with Currents, our NETTV daily news show, to report on their progress.