Just hours after finishing his fourth New York City Marathon on Sunday, the Rev. Joseph Tyrell stood at the altar at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, holding his finisher’s medal high over his head.
“Today, I ran through the five boroughs!” said Tyrell, applause echoing through the cathedral. “Stand up if you ran the marathon today.”
Thirty runners, proud but tired, stood up to the enthusiastic applause. At the conclusion of mass, he asked them to come forward and posed for pictures and friends and relatives snapped away.
“This is the Mass I look forward to,” said Tyrell. “We put our medals on, and come back to say thanks to God.”
Yvonne Jessup, a marathoner from California, said she went to St. Patrick’s after the race because even when she’s out of town, she never misses mass.
“Tonight, I came to thank God for the strength that got me through,” said Jessup.
An Irish marathoner, Sean McGoldrick, said he went to a similar “runner’s mass” a couple years ago when he ran the Boston marathon.
“Running is a very spiritual sport,” said McGoldrick, “but I really just came to see how Father Tyrell did.”
While 30 runners showed up for the 5:30 mass after the race, there was an even bigger crowd the night before for the official “Runner’s Mass.” Tyrell said St. Patrick’s isn’t the only parish to bless the runners pre-race, but he said his own marathon participation has made St. Patrick’s “Runner’s Mass” the most popular.
“At the first ‘Runner’s Mass,’ we had about 100 runners,” Tyrell said on Saturday. “Tonight, we had 400 to 500 runners. It was packed up there.”
At the end of the mass on Saturday afternoon, Tyrell invited the runners up to the altar for the blessing. Tyrell said the “blessing of the runners” is as much about building camaraderie as it is about “splashing everyone” with holy water.
Martin Taylor, who is from Ireland and has run 11 New York City marathons, said he comes back to the city each year especially for the mass.
“I just love the way it brings the whole community together,” Taylor said. “I love the sermon, and how he makes the scripture relevant.”
Paul and Diana Karls, a married couple from Wisconsin, said they also find significance in Tyrell’s sermon.
“I will use his words tomorrow,” said Ms. Karls, “especially during those last miles.”
Tyrell’s sermon on Saturday night was a lesson in how to make the ancient scriptures applicable to modern life. In this case, it was all about the 26.2-mile race.
“I was particularly struck by the Father’s words, ‘They will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint,’” said Siobhan Hearney, an Irish marathoner running the race with her husband and friends.
“It’s not just physical, it’s spiritual,” said Hearney.
Hearney said she would also focus her thoughts while running on the charity she supports, Foy Hospice.
Tyrell calls what Hearney does “running with a purpose.”
Tyrell raises money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. He said his reason for running is particularly close to home.
“I had a parishioner years ago who had MS,” said Tyrell, “and she took 26 hours to run the marathon. Not that’s courage. That’s faith that kept her going.”
At the mass after the run,Tyrell said listening to scripture on his iPod helped him keep going.
And on Sunday, Tyrell ran his fastest marathon yet, clocking in at 4:01:21.
“This was the first time I’ve ever run a marathon so fast,” said Tyrell. “I really needed faith, I had nothing left. I actually hit the wall, and I had to keep repeating to myself, ‘In Christ, I can do all things, in Christ, I can do all things.”