by Tom Tracy
After nine chilly, sometimes rainy days on their statewide Run for Life novena event, the volunteer runners from around Florida arrived Feb. 22 to picture-perfect weather at their final destination: the 208-foot Great Cross of Mission Nombre de Dios here.
Joined at the finish line by a small group of Ride for Life bikers, the team of runners had come from Homestead, Marco Island, Pensacola and elsewhere as part of three separate runs that started on Feb. 14 in support of Florida pregnancy centers and shelters for battered and abused women, children and seniors.
The runners were greeted by Father Sal Di Fazio, Knights of Columbus Chaplain in the Diocese of St. Augustine, and a color corps of Fourth Degree members of the Knights of Columbus, along with Don Goolesby, state secretary for the Knights of Columbus Florida. The 27th annual Run for Life was sponsored by the Knights of Columbus in Florida.
Florida’s Run for Life was started 26 years ago when local resident Caroline Wolf asked the Knights to help her raise money for the St. Augustine-based St. Gerard House for unwed mothers helping girls complete their high school diploma while taking care of their newborns.
The Knights council at Homestead came up with the idea of the run and sponsorships. Every year since between six and 10 people have been running the 364 miles from Homestead to St. Augustine over a nine day period (a novena). In recent years runners from the West coast and the Panhandle have been added and all meet here in St.Augustine on the Sunday after Ash Wednesday.
“They take off from work and away from their families to do that run” Mrs. Wolf said, adding that the run generates between $5,0000 to $10,000 in support of St. Gerard House, which helped coordinate a luncheon at St. Sebastian Church in St. Augustine at the race’s conclusion. “We are still paying our mortgage off at the maternity home, and we have five girls in residence right now, but you could really say 10 people (if you include their pregnancies).”
Before departing the grounds at Mission Nombre de Dios, Father di Fazio, along with retired Father Seamus O’Flynn, of St. Anastasia Parish, con-celebrated Mass for the runners and their supporters at the shrine’s Rustic Altar overlooking the Matanzas River.