Marathon priests use races to raise funds for parish ministries and needs

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Thursday, October 19, 2023

Marathon priests use races to raise funds for parish ministries and needs

We highlight three priests -- Fathers Mike Bradley, Rob Schultz and Roy Belocura -- who ran marathons this fall to raise money for parish projects and ministries. They are just a few of the priests from Chicago who participate in marathons or triathlons to support charitable projects.
Father Rob Schultz is pictured with his most recent medal and his running bibs displayed in the parish office at Holy Virgin Martyrs Parish, Schiller Park on Oct. 4, 2023. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
In this file photo, Schultz takes a run around the grounds of St. Beatrice Parish on Aug. 2, 2018. Shultz would swim, bike and run in his 100th competition Aug. 5, 2018 in the Glenview Sprint Triathlon to try to raise $10,000 for projects at his parish. He will swim 300 yards, bike 10 miles and run a 5K at Glenview’s Park Center. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Schultz rides his bike in his 100th competition Aug. 5, 2018 at the Glenview Sprint Triathlon to try to raise $10,000 for projects at his parish. He swam 300 yards, biked 10 miles and ran a 5K at Glenview’s Park Center and nearby neighborhood. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Roy Belocura, associate pastor, takes a run around the parish at St Julie Billiart, Tinley Park on Oct. 5, 2023. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
In this file photo, Belocura gives instructions to server Gabby Palma before the start of the 4th Annual Asian Community Mass on Sept. 11, 2022 at St. Julie Billiart Parish. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
In this file photo, Belocura leads a procession at the 4th Annual Asian Community Mass, on Sept. 11, 2022 at St. Julie Billiart Parish. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
In this file photo, 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. With the cancellation of the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 11, 2020, he ran a do-it-yourself-marathon 26.2 miles through the streets of Edgewater. It was Bradley’s 49th marathon in 25 years. Bradley ran to benefit St. Gertrude’s Heart to Heart Ministry that serves vulnerable senior citizens in Edgewater. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bradley high-fives a parishioner running in a parish fun run/walk before a rally at St. Gertrude Parish cheer him on the day before he competes in his 50th marathon on Oct. 7, 2023. This year will be his 21st Chicago Marathon where he will raise funds for St. Gertrude’s Heart-To-Heart Ministries, which serves senior citizens. Bradley has a list of people he prays for as he runs, this year a special dedication for Bishop Kevin Birmingham, a former student of his who passed away suddenly the week of the marathon. (Cynthia Flores-Mocarski/Chicago Catholic)
Father Mike Gabriel, pastor, leads a cheer at the rally for Bradley. (Cynthia Flores-Mocarski/Chicago Catholic)
Bradley interacts with parishioners during the rally for him. (Cynthia Flores-Mocarski/Chicago Catholic)

At least three priests from the Archdiocese of Chicago hit the pavement Oct. 8 in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon with a goal of not only finishing, but of raising money that will benefit people in their parishes.

For Father Roy Belocura, associate pastor at St. Julie Billiart Parish in Tinley Park, this was the first time he ran in the Chicago Marathon and his second overall. Belocura finished the race in 5 hours 26 minutes.

Belocura, who was born in the Philippines, said he was never a runner or any kind of athlete until after he came to the Archdiocese of Chicago in 2017. He was serving at St. Mary Parish in Des Plaines, and a parishioner there got him into running.

That parishioner — a 68-year-old woman — helped him train for the Fox Valley Marathon in 2019, he said.

His running kind of fell off during the COVID-19 pandemic, but once races started to be held again, he laced up his sneakers. He got a spot in the 2022 Chicago Marathon, but could not race because of prior commitments, so he deferred to this year.

Now at St. Julie Billiart, Belacura, 43, has been training with a group from the Chicago Area Runner’s Association, he said.

Running is spiritual as well as physical exercise, Belocura said.

“It’s a great lesson of doing the seemingly impossible at first,” he said. “There’s a big reliance on the grace of God, especially for me, as a relative newbie. … It helped me grow spiritually in my relationship with God. There’s always doubts in being able to do it. It helped me grow in my trust and my faith that God would give me the necessary strength and grace. I mean, what a crazy thing to do, to run four hours, five hours, six hours?”

Belocura is raising money for St. Julie’s Pat Kmak Faith Formation Fund, which honors the parish’s late longtime director of religious formation. Kmak retired in 2022 and died unexpectedly just a few weeks later, and Belocura, who was assigned to the parish just as she retired, never met her in person.

“From the testimony of the people of the parish, she was a kind person, a gentle person, the kind of person that is unifying for the community,” Belocura said. “I was looking forward to meeting her at the party organized for her. But we know what happened, and it was sad. I met her on her funeral day.”

The fund created in her name helps pay for faith formation efforts, including religious education and mission trips. To donate, visit

Father Rob Schultz, pastor of Two Holy Martyrs Parish in Schiller Park, set a goal even more ambitious than finishing his 12th Chicago Marathon.

Schultz planned to compete in the Ironman 70.3 in Muncie, Indiana, on Sept. 30 and then run the Chicago Marathon eight days later in honor of turning 50 years old. He finished the Muncie triathlon in 8 hours 30 minutes and 23 seconds — 23 seconds too long to be counted as an official finisher — and the marathon in 5 hours, 49 minutes.

Schultz, speaking about two weeks before the triathlon, acknowledged that the plan might be “a little crazy,” especially for someone like him who doesn’t devote too much time to training.

“For any race I do, I train minimally, only because of time,” Schultz said. “I belong to a health club, so I go swim there. Biking is what I do the least. I should do it the most, because that’s actually the biggest part of the race of the triathlon, but it’s my least favorite of the three. I run and I swim more often. When I do have my one day off a week, that’s when I pack in the most training and that’s when I’ll try to do at least two of the three disciplines.

“I wouldn’t tell other people to copy what I do. You know, it’s gotten me through. I’ve always — up to now, thanks be to God — finished every race I’ve done. I’ve never not finished. I’ll probably jinx myself now.”

Another unlikely runner, Schultz took up racing after he was ordained, when his parish was sponsoring a 5K, and he found it difficult to finish. Now he does several races a year, with his race bibs proudly displayed in his parish office.

He hopes that inspires other people to challenge themselves as well.

“I try to inspire others to do things that challenge them because this challenges me,” Schultz said. “I think people have in their head because I’ve done so many races that oh, I’m this great athlete and I’m in great shape. I’m in good shape, but I’m not in great shape and I’m not a natural athlete. I finish near the back half of the pack almost always, and with these two big long-distance races like this, I will be one of the last to finish the Half Ironman and I’ll be one of the last to finish the marathon. It’s always my goal is just to finish. …

“When you challenge yourself, especially for me, it’s about overcoming fears. You know what Jesus says most in the Gospels is, ‘Do not be afraid.’ I’m sure we all have fears that have held us back from doing things, or times we tell ourselves, ‘I can’t do that.’ At least for me, anytime I have pushed myself in life, whether it’s something small or something big, when you overcome something that you didn’t think you could do, when you overcome the fear that you had, for me, that is just life-giving. It opens up all these new doors and you can see that we can do so much more with God’s grace than we might think.”

Schultz said that runners must cross the finish line within six and half hours to be officially counted as finishing the Chicago Marathon; his previous finishes have been everywhere from 5 hours 19 minutes to about 6 hours 25 minutes.

Schultz said he is hoping to raise enough money to pay for new carpeting in the church, about $40,000. It’s part of several ongoing renovations, mostly paid for with the help of a generous bequest to the parish.

He wasn’t sure whether he would make that goal; “Some people are probably waiting to see if I finish before donating,” he joked.

To donate, mail a check to HVM Parish, 4157 Atlantic Ave., Schiller Park, IL, 60176.

The most experienced of the three marathoners is Father Michael Bradley, 70, who competed in his 50th marathon. He finished in 6 hours and 14 minutes.

Bradley, a retired priest who resides at St. Gertrude Parish, garnered attention when he ran a do-it-yourself marathon through the Edgewater neighborhood in 2020. He planned to run in his 50th marathon last year, but was sidelined by injury.

Bradley said he used to train with a CARA running group, but now he goes for runs in cemeteries a few times a week. The atmosphere is peaceful, with no speeding traffic, he said.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for prayer,” Bradley said.

While he runs, he prays for everyone who has asked for his prayers — requests he finds “enriching” because of the trust placed in him.

“It’s a great way to forget about some of the aches and soreness,” Bradley said. “It’s not just one mile at a time, it’s one step at a time. … I’m praying for people who are running their own sort of marathons. It puts me in touch with the Lord.”

This year, he dedicated his marathon to Auxiliary Bishop Kevin Birmingham, who died unexpectedly on Oct. 2 at the age of 51. Bradley had known Bishop Birmingham since Bishop Birmingham was a student at Quigley South high school seminary.

Bradley said he has slowed down over the years, and never expects to come close to his personal record of 4 hours and 20 minutes.

Now, he said, he runs three or four minutes and then walks for a minute.

“I find the walking helps me center myself and focus,” he said.

Bradley is raising money for St. Gertrude’s Heart to Heart Ministry, an outreach to seniors in the community, whether parishioners or not. Seniors can get help with things like rides to the doctor or even just visits to offer companionship, Bradley said.

Heart to Heart also maintains a lending library of medical equipment such as walkers.

The parish supported Bradley’s efforts with a 3K fun run Oct. 7.

Support from people along the marathon route always makes a big difference, Bradley said, and it made a difference when he ran on his own in 2020. Then, he was surprised to find a crowd on the church steps to see him off at 6 a.m. Late in his route, when he could almost see the finish line, he suffered bad leg cramps, and rang a parishioner’s doorbell to ask for ice.

“They helped me so much,” he said. “I couldn’t have done it without them.”

To donate to Bradley’s Heart to Heart fundraiser, visit


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