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Father Jim Sullivan. Riding for St Peters/St Francis School.

POSTED May 19, 2015
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney

TORRINGTON: If I have learned anything about Father Jim Sullivan from St Peters and St Francis School in Torrington it’s this.

He’s competitive.

On Friday and Saturday last week, the Catholic grammar school played host to a free throw and three-point shooting contest that was open to all age groups.

Friday night, from 6-8 p.m. it was the adults turn, Saturday from 3-6 it was kid’s day.

A great way to raise some money for a school, that like so many others in this economic climate, have to be creative in the ways that they fund their institution.

An avid basketball fan, Father Sullivan wasted little time in showing off his skills on the hardwood from both spots.

The free throws barely bothered the rim, the three pointers found the floor under the net quickly.

Father Sullivan walked away with the top prize in his age group, thoroughly embarrassing yours truly who failed to connect even once from beyond the arch in what seemed like 100 shots but in reality, was just 15. Bad enough.

To make matters worse, on Saturday, my 10-year old granddaughter, Skyy, took her shots and drained three. Ouch.

This week, on NBC, Today Show host Matt Lauer is riding from Providence, Rhode Island back to Rockefeller plaza in New York City as part of Red Nose Day on Thursday. It’s a 250 mile journey.

Red Nose Day has been taking place in the UK for over 30 years and makes its American debut this year with a goal of raising money to help hungry children across the world.

Well, we have a guy who is looking to make a big difference in the school where young Torrington minds are being developed into future leaders who can perhaps figure out a way to alleviate the need for Red Nose Day.

Father Sullivan will begin his 350-mile journey that will take him from Torrington to Maryland on Friday, May 29 at 8 a.m. He will arrive in Emmitsburg, Maryland on Thursday, June 4.

“The bike ride is raising tuition money for the kids,” Father Sullivan said, “It’s scholarship money in order for them be able to go to the school.”

How did this two wheel adventure come to be?

“I came up with the idea,” Father Sullivan said, “My sister, if she wasn’t a nun, could have been a Wall Street marketing person. She just has these outside the box ideas. I was talking to her one night around Thanksgiving and I said I was looking for a way to raise money for the school. She was thinking about a priest in New York who did an eighty-mile walk, to raise $100,000 for his school. So she said, ‘you’re an avid bike rider, why don’t you do something with your bike?”

And an idea was born.

“So I just developed it from there,” Father Sullivan said, “It’s not 1000 miles or a ride to the other side of the country but it’s not a fifty mile ride down the road either.”

Not a walk in the park, by any means. There are some serious hills between here and there.

“So it’s a decent destination, 350 miles,” Father Sullivan said, “It’s doable and that was going to be our destination.”

The final destination is significant to Father Sullivan because it is the location of the Basilica and National Shrine of St Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first US born saint.

“I began to think that if I was going to do it,” Father Sullivan said, “Why do it alone? Why not get other priests to do it? So I put the word out there, National Catholic Registry did a story on it. Got some responses, got a priest from New York to go and then we started to plot out the journey.”

An idea started to run into a reality as the momentum started to build as things progressed to the planning stages.

“We are doing 50-miles a day and it’ll take seven days,” Father Sullivan said, “A couple of guys are in their sixties are going so we don’t want to be too aggressive.”

The group is not looking to break any speed records along the way, it’s not a competition.

“It’s not a race, it’s a pilgrimage of prayer,” Father Sullivan said, “We’re each keeping our own pace, with at least two riding together at all times. So, a couple of faster guys in front and we’ll pace it out from there.”

Their first leg with take them over the Bear Mountain Bridge to Fishkill and then south down Route 9 by the Hudson River, a terrific scenic view if there ever was one.

Suffern, New York will lead to Morristown, New Jersey and then on to the long state of Pennsylvania, which has some biblical names of towns within its borders.

True to the spirit of the journey, towns named Bethlehem and Nazareth came into play where Father Sullivan ran into some familiar stories from bible in modern times.

“So you know the story in the bible of how there was no room at the Inn for Mary and Joseph,” Father Sullivan said, “So one of our volunteers called Bethlehem to see if we could stay at a Monastery instead of a hotel or motel to save money. So they call and ask if we could stay but the person on the phone says that there is no room.”

Can’t make that up.

“So the next day,” Father Sullivan said, “I call. I’m thinking maybe they got the day or date wrong when we called and sure enough, another person picks up the phone, the misunderstood the day and they said they were fine for that day.”

With a destination in mind and a plan in place, a celebration of sorts is being planned for the sendoff in Torrington.

“I’m starting here at the school,” Father Sullivan said, “Eight o’clock in the morning. At 8:05 we are having a little tricycle race with the pre-K ad K kids. After that, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth graders who have their parents’ permission and a few parents are riding with me down South Main, up Route 118 to Lordes Shrine. Chris Smedick (Torrington police) has a police escort for us all the way down to the shrine.”

Father Sullivan expects between 300 and 400 people from the surrounding area to attend the event in Litchfield for a mass, a blessing of the bikes before kicking off at about 11 a.m. for Fishkill, New York.

11 priests will leave with Father Sullivan that morning.

“I think what makes the journey different is that its priest making the journey,” Father Sullivan said, “You have bike rides for different causes but not one with all priests doing it.”

It takes a special kind of person to put themselves on the line doing a project like this and Torrington is lucky to have him.

While it may not be a race of competition, be sure of one thing. Father Sullivan will compete against himself along the way, just as he did on the hardwood with a victory inevitable.

For more from Timothy W. Gaffney click here