Father Bradley runs do-it-yourself marathon to benefit seniors

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Father Michael Bradley, a 67-year-old resident priest at St. Gertrude Parish, takes a practice run around the parish grounds on Oct. 9, 2020. Since the cancellation of the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 11, he ran a do-it-yourself marathon 26.2 miles through the streets of Edgewater on Oct. 11. He ran to raise money for the parish’s Heart to Heart ministry, which serves vulnerable senior citizens in Edgewater. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

The weather was perfect for running with temperatures in the 50s and 60s on Oct. 11. That’s when Father Michael Bradley, 67, a resident priest at St. Gertrude Parish, 1420 W. Granville Ave., and adjutant judicial vicar in the Metropolitan Tribunal, took to the streets of Edgewater to run a do-it-yourself version of the Chicago Marathon.

The marathon, originally scheduled for Oct. 11, was canceled because of the pandemic, but Bradley still wanted to run and raise money for the parish’s Heart to Heart program, which ministers to seniors. This was Bradley’s 49th marathon.

“Starting time was 6 a.m., and to my amazement, parishioners were standing on the front steps of St. Gertrude Church, in the dark, to bless and pray for me. That was a powerful moment, and gave me a burst of energy as I ran off into the darkness,” he said. “Even during the early hours of Sunday morning, families were out on their front porches and sidewalks cheering me on.”

To complete the 26.2 miles, he ran a 6.5-mile loop four times. There were yellow signs with black lettering in front yards throughout the route saying “Run, Father Mike, Run.” Some families made their own signs of support. He finished in 5 hours and 8 minutes and at press time had raised over $22,000 for the Heart to Heart program.

“I felt the enthusiasm of parishioners, and my fellow priests from St. Gertrude, and even neighbors who are not Catholic. At the finish line, there was a big crowd of people,” he said. “Knowing that we are helping individuals who have been very isolated during the pandemic made it all worthwhile.”

Although Bradley ran his first marathon in 1995, he didn’t train for it and wasn’t a runner.

“It was just kind of a fluke. At the last minute another priest and a couple of seminarians said on Thursday, ‘Hey, let’s run the marathon on Sunday morning.’ The next thing I knew we were in a car and headed there. I was not prepared.”

Bradley usually prays three or four rosaries during marathons, “depending on how bad my agony is at mile 20,” he said. “It’s time for thinking, praying, enjoying the time.”

While he’s completed 20 Chicago Marathons, he particularly enjoys small-town marathons.

“It sometimes gives me material, you might say, for homilies. I was in a marathon where there were only 50 runners in rural Wisconsin. I came in last, dead last. In my homily I said, ‘How many of you have ever come in very last place on something?’”

In that race, the runner ahead of him was a woman pregnant with twins.

“That was very humbling,” he said, laughing.

Bradley keeps track of other archdiocesan priests who run marathons and women religious too. In August, his former student from University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary, Sister Stephanie Baglia, a Franciscan of the Eucharist of Chicago, ran a marathon on a  treadmill. “She’s a great student, a great human being, a great runner,” Bradley said. “She could run circles around me. She’s awesome.”

As is the custom with many marathoners, he wears a shirt with “Father Mike” printed on his shirt so people can cheer him on by name. That’s resulted in some interesting reactions.

“They’ll be cheering, ‘Go, Joe!’ ‘Go, Suzy!’ ‘Go Father Mike!’ ‘Father Mike?’ They have to look. I think they think priests don’t have legs and run on wheels or something.”

People have also seen his shirt and asked him to hear their confessions, on the course and before races. Once it happened while he was in line for the bathroom.

“The person in front of me turned around and said, ‘Are you a Catholic priest? Could I go to confession?’ I said, ‘Let’s finish up here with our duty and then we’ll find a quiet place for that before the race begins.’ But other times it’s been during the race,” Bradley said.

He always uses the marathons to raise money for charity.

“In these hard times I hate to ask people for support, but people have been so generous,” he said.

“Father Mike has always had an extraordinary relationship with the parishioners, especially the elderly or the infirm. This is not a surprise that he doing this for them,” said Father Richard Prendergast, pastor of St. Gertrude, in an interview a few days before Bradley’s marathon. “It’s really a ministry. He’s helping people while he’s doing these marathons.”


  • priests
  • chicago marathon
  • covid-19

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