Priest runs on a prayer for youth ministry

Father Ryan Higdon crosses the finish line of the Bryan-College Station Marathon on Dec. 14. (Photo courtesy Father Higdon)

By Mary P. Walker
Senior Correspondent

Father Ryan Higdon, associate pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Bryan, believes the Holy Spirit inspired him during a retreat. Who else could have suggested that his passion for helping the area’s youth ministers be combined with his desire to run the Dec. 14 BCS Marathon?
Msgr. John McCaffrey, himself a former marathoner, along with others, helped Father Higdon refine the inspiration into a project called “Pacing with Padre.” Both a fundraiser for youth ministry and community event, “Pacing with Padre” asked benefactors to sponsor Father Higdon’s marathon miles. It also encouraged the youth of the area’s parishes to form relay teams to race along with the priest. 
Going from an inspiration to an endeavor that raised more than $25,000 required dedication and organization. A website was quickly developed with options for sponsoring miles and donating online. A generous benefactor offered to match donations up to $10,000. Father Higdon trained hard, and youth ministers and volunteers from area parishes mobilized 10 teams of 72 runners, publicized the event and solicited donations.
The night before race day, the St. Joseph Parish Knights of Columbus cooked a pasta meal for the runners. St. Thomas Aquinas Parish and St. Mary Catholic Center in College Station, St. Joseph and St. Anthony parishes in Bryan and St. Mary Parish in Caldwell sent teams. The Aggie Knights of Columbus formed a team to run on behalf of Holy Rosary Parish in Frenstat, and Aggies for Youth, an ad hoc team of supporters, also joined.
Catherine Riley coordinated the teams of runners. She explained that the pasta dinner was a chance for all of the participants, who would be spread across the race course the following day, to meet for fun, prayer and good food. She also expressed her appreciation to the local marathon’s organizing body, which she characterized as “very enthusiastic and helpful.”
Matt Rice, founder and director of Collaborative Catholic Formation Ministries (CCFM), which serves youth in three of the participating parishes, said, “We are very grateful to Father Higdon and his sponsors. ‘Pacing with Padre’ was a venue for parishes to work together for the benefit of all of our youth.”
Race day weather was almost perfect. The 26-mile course wound through Bryan, College Station, and the Texas A&M campus. While Father Higdon ran the entire race, the relay runners ran legs of about three miles with some runners doing more, encouraging the priest along the way.
Eva Martinez, 15, of St. Mary Parish in Caldwell ended up running about half of the race herself. While she joined to help the youth ministry program in her parish, she especially enjoyed the camaraderie with other runners, saying, “I saw a girl running by herself, so I went up to her and now we’re friends.”
Relay teams of young, enthusiastic runners were an inspiration to Father Higdon, who finished with a respectable time. 
“As I crossed the finish line my heart was full; full from a marathon filled with prayer, the support and encouragement of so many relay runners and volunteers, and the thought that so many youth from across the deanery had worked together,” Father Higdon said.