Since the pandemic began, food insecurity has spiked in Chicago. “Right now, we serve about 3,000-3,500 families,” said Stephanie Baliga, a Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist in an interview last month with WTTW, the Chicago PBS affiliate. And Sister Baliga, who runs the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels food pantry is racing to deal with the problem. Literally.
A cross-country runner when she attended the University of Illinois, a foot injury sidelined her. It was then that she reimagined her future. She decided to join the Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago. But she brought her passion for running along and soon became known as “The Running Nun.”
According to a feature in her hometown paper, the Rockford Register Star, shortly after professing her vows, Sister Baliga formed a charity fundraising team to compete in the Chicago Marathon. Her best time, 2:53. The team, which averages 100 to 150 runners each year, has raised $1.1 million.
“When I was reevaluating my life, I decided I wanted to help people,” she said. “My only goal is to bring the love to as many people as I can that Jesus has brought to me. Running has most definitely helped me do that to the fullest.”
On learning that the 2020 Chicago Marathon was canceled because of the pandemic, she livestreamed herself running a marathon on a treadmill, setting a Guinness World Record and raising more than $150,000 for the mission.
“This is the beautiful witness,” Baliga said in an interview last year with the Catholic News Service. “When I gave God running…God gave me this great gift back of being able to do marathoning. And not for myself, because I’ve been able to do this with this incredible fundraiser to raise awareness and support and money for our work here on the west side of Chicago.”
For Baliga, running complements her faith and her vocation. “Running is a good way to help people pray and help people to grow in holiness,” she says, “if you take it seriously and do it for others and not for yourself.”
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