Traveling through North Carolina on his bicycle was a physically demanding task for Stephen Rooney, but he keeps going by focusing on his mission.
“When people ask us how do we do it, the only answer that comes to mind is by the grace of God,” said Rooney, a native of Long Island, N.Y.
Along with Catholic priests and seminarians, Rooney is traveling along the East Coast for Biking 4 Vocations. The purpose of the pilgrimage is to raise awareness about vocations and priesthood through a 1,400-mile journey which began in Saint Augustine, Fla. It’s scheduled to end in New York. Each night, the group stopped at a different Catholic Church to speak with young people. They recently visited Clinton and members of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church.
“We have a great group of guys on the team and we try to stay centered on Christ throughout this pilgrimage,” Rooney said. “We pray several times a day, on and off the bike. We try to stay focused on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, so the prayer really helps.”
Sister Theresine Gildea of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church said it was a privilege for them to stop at the church. Gildea was assisted by Sister Maxine Tancraitor.
“We were lucky to be one of the chosen parishes where they stopped,” Gildea said. “I was probably a little more excited than they were.”
They celebrated bilingual mass with Father Bill John Acosta Escobar, the vocation’s director for the Diocese of Raleigh. After mass, a bilingual discussion was held with members of the parish where Steven Diaz of the Archdiocese of New York shared his vocation story in Spanish.
“We’re just doing this so the young people can be open to God,” Rooney said.
The team members said they were extremely grateful for the hospitality in Clinton. Rooney said the Catholic churches share a bond which allowed them to stop at various cities and towns such as Savannah, Ga. Myrtle Beach, S.C. Washington, D.C. and Newark, N.J.
“It’s your new home, it’s your new church,” Rooney said. “Even though we’re in a different city or state, it’s still one church.”
Currently, Rooney is a college seminarian studying for the Diocese of Rockville Centre. He attends St. John’s University and live at Cathedral Seminary House of Formation, New York. During his high school senior year, Rooney was offered a cross-country scholarship to attend the University of Florida. But he went in another direction to enter the seminary.
“I felt that God was calling me to the priesthood,” said the 20-year-old seminarian.
Rooney recently participated in a program titled “Bike and Build,” and traveled across the United States. The purpose was to raise awareness for affordable housing. His trip was from Providence, R.I. to San Francisco.
“On that trip last summer, that’s where the idea for the trip actually came from,” Rooney said about seeing the lack of priests around the country. “That really startled me. I believe the holy spirit inspired me with this idea to bike across the East Coast.”
The team is also made up of the Rev. Joseph Fitzgerald, Dominik Wegiel of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, the Rev. Marc Swartvagher of the Brooklyn Diocese and Diaz.
After Clinton, the crew made its way to Fayetteville and then to Raleigh. Their journey is scheduled to end June 14 in Rockville Centre, N.Y. Rooney and his fellow riders are currently asking for prayers.
“We’ve had some close calls on the bike,” he said about the challenges associated with the ride. “Since people have been praying so much for us we’ve been OK. So please keep up the prayers.”