This article was originally printed in the Detroit Catholic.
By: Daniel Meloy
Deacon Seamus Kettner and Matthew Conner see many parallels between running and prayer life: ‘Perseverance is needed’
DETROIT — Deacon Seamus Kettner says he ran the Boston Marathon in true “Boston weather.”
It was a rainy, darkened day with the temperature in the mid-40s on April 17, but that didn’t diminish the energy from the crowd, said Deacon Kettner, a Diocese of Lansing seminarian studying at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, who is preparing to be ordained a priest on June 10.
“For the 15 minutes leading up to the race, it was pouring rain, and I was thinking, ‘I wish I wore my over gear before getting to the start,’” Deacon Kettner told Detroit Catholic. “But the crowd was huge, and we had 30,000 runners in total. I never ran a race where I was in a marathon with so many runners all working together, pacing each other.”
The Boston Marathon is the epicenter of long-distance running in the United States; the entire affair is one big party for the town, with fans cheering on the runners while grilling food and playing music.
It was around the 16-mile stretch that the crowd was getting a bit mild, so Deacon Kettner, who had been running for more than 90 minutes at that point, picked up his arms to pump up the crowd.
“I don’t know what got into me, but I was thinking what would happen if I just raised my arms a bit,” said Deacon Kettner, who clocked in at 2 hours, 42 minutes, and 1 second. “I raised my arms, and the people would erupt in cheers. They didn’t know my name, but if they were close enough, they could read (my) jersey. They all started chanting, ‘Firefall, Firefall.’”
“Firefall” is in reference to the team name he and fellow Sacred Heart seminarian Matthew Conner were wearing in the race, with the name coming from Acts 1:8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”
“Oh boy, did I feel the Holy Spirit come upon me,” Deacon Kettner said.
Conner, who is studying for the Companions of the Cross and in his first year of formation, came up with the idea of wearing “Firefall” jerseys during the race. Besides he and Deacon Kettner, the group now includes several friends the pair have made across the country who want to combine running with prayer.
“The inspiration behind Firefall was to start a Christian, specifically Catholic, running club,” Conner said. “I recognized most of the faith-based conversations I had during training in the last couple of years. There are a lot of parallels between persevering in training and persevering in prayer. There are a lot of days where you go to do that easy running, waking up at 5:30 a.m., and there are days when you wake up at 6 a.m. to do a Holy Hour in the chapel. (In both cases) there are a lot of days when you’re tired, you don’t want to do it. Perseverance comes in both running and prayer.”
Conner finished at 2 hours, 55 minutes, and 10 seconds, an impressive mark for someone who took up distance running only a few years ago when he walked on to the track team during his senior year at Benedictine College. He completed his first marathon in 2022, which qualified him for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Nationals.
For Conner, the physical exercise quickly became a spiritual exercise.
“Running has always been a time for me to clear my head, straighten my thoughts, and take some time to pray as well,” Conner said. “After joining the cross country and track teams at Benedictine, the communal aspect, the team aspect of it becomes even more important.”
During Conner’s senior year, he discovered many of the faith-based conversations he was having on campus took place in the context of practice.
“Because you have a great group of guys you are training with, spending a lot of time together, it naturally lends itself to talking about those heavier subjects or more weighing things in life,” Conner said.