BOSTON—What does running the Boston Marathon and discerning one’s vocation have in common?
Quite a lot, according to Daniel Kennedy — a seminarian at St. John’s Seminary in his third year of theology.
“Running a marathon is a journey that parallels, in many ways, discovering a vocation to the priesthood,” he declared.
On Patriot’s Day, Kennedy will be among the 20,000 runners who will test their resolve as they participate in the 110th Boston Marathon.
Although he has run the Boston Marathon before, this year’s marathon means much more to him than simply running the race. This year, Kennedy is being sponsored by the Vocations Office of the Archdiocese of Boston and is participating in the marathon in order to “raise awareness and to strengthen the culture of vocations to the priesthood in Boston.”
According to Kennedy, too often people forget that those called to the priesthood are no different than the rest of society.
“Running a race is a very normal human thing,” stated Father Daniel Hennessey, director of the Office for Vocations. Kennedy embodies the fact that “priests share interests that everyone has” — interests such as running or playing sports, he added.
“It is important for people to know that to be a seminarian is normal,” he said. “It is important for Catholics to know that…and it is important for young men to know that.”
In order to run the course well, “you have to keep your focus, to be smart and respect the course and to listen to your body,” Kennedy said, adding that even though he is not trying to win a medal, he wishes to run it “in such a way that it is enjoyable.”
“I admit that it’s difficult for a lot of people to understand that it can be enjoyable,” he laughed. “But although many people don’t understand, it’s not a reason to not do it.”
“Kind of like becoming a priest,” he added.
Running has always been an important part of Kennedy’s formation to the priesthood.
“For me marathon training is a time to be alone, a time to discern God’s will, a time to think and a time to pray,” he said.
“It’s important that we include prayer into our journey” regardless of what vocation we are called to — the priesthood, married life, the single life, he stressed, because without prayer, “you could find you missed your vocation.”
“That would be like taking a wrong turn along the marathon course — you would never get to the finish line.”
“Whether it’s running the course from Hopkinton to Boston, or it’s thinking about becoming a priest at age 7 or 8 and finally realizing it on ordination day, there are many curves, bumps, hills and heartbreaks along the way,” Kennedy said.
The road to finding his own vocation has not been without its own bumps and detours. Although becoming a priest was always on his mind since 7th or 8th grade, Kennedy did not immediately act on it.
After graduating from Providence College, he worked for five years as a software consultant, travelling extensively throughout the United States and the world.
“Even though the job was quite good, it wasn’t satisfying me at the end of the day and it wasn’t satisfying my heart,” he explained.
Drawing from his childhood memories of the Christian Brothers at Catholic Memorial High School where he attended, Kennedy realized that “some of the happiest men I had ever met in my life” were priests and religious brothers.
Feeling unsure whether he was called to become a priest, Kennedy took a leave of absence from his job and entered St. John’s Seminary to discern his call.
“Discernment is a process,” he explained. “Just because you enter the seminary doesn’t mean it’s a done deal. The time of the seminary is a time to discern, to develop a deeper relationship with Christ.”
After three years of seminary studies, Kennedy decided to “take a step back” and leave the seminary for one semester to make certain “God wanted me to be ordained a priest.”
“I returned to the seminary with the confidence that I so yearned for,” he said.
Kennedy will be ordained a transitional deacon next year, the last major step before ordination to the priesthood. Additionally, he is currently a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the Navy Reserves, studying to be a Navy chaplain.
According to Kennedy, his future is full of promise, but for now, he is just focusing on the starting line.
“The training’s all done now, and all I can do is rest and hope that all my training will pay off,” he said.
“His enthusiasm for running the race allows us to glimpse his enthusiasm for becoming a priest,” Father Hennessey mused.
“Watch out for number 20334,” Father Hennessey added, “and when he runs by, say a prayer for vocations.”