BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CNS) — Two priests and three seminarians, all from the New York metropolitan area, are biking their way up the East Coast in hopes of raising awareness about religious vocations along the way.

The team drove to their starting point — the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida, which is observing the 450th year of a Catholic presence in the Americas. They began the ride from there May 18 and their progress can be followed on the website

The priests are Father Marc Swartvagher, a Brooklyn diocesan priest who teaches at Cathedral Seminary House of Formation, and Father Joseph Fitzgerald, diocesan vocations director for the Diocese of Rockville Centre.


The three college seminarians include Steven Diaz, who is studying for the Archdiocese of New York, and two from Rockville Centre, Dominik Wegiel and Stephen Rooney.

The trip — named Biking4Vocations — came from Rooney, who last summer pedaled across the country with an organization called “Bike and Build.”

“We biked from Providence, Rhode Island, to San Francisco in order to raise money and awareness for affordable housing,” he said.

He said he wanted to do something that had more of a spiritual component and he reached out to his fellow seminarians.

Father Swartvagher told The Tablet, Brooklyn’s diocesan newspaper, that the cyclists will travel 1,400 miles through 15 dioceses in 11 states. Along the way, vocation directors in those dioceses are supplying lodging and food and also setting up youth and parish events at which they will speak about vocations to the priesthood. They plan to travel 50 to 80 miles a day, with only a couple days set aside for rest.

If all goes according to plan, they should arrive back in New York June 12 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan. On the morning of June 13, they will be at St. Joseph’s Seminary, the archdiocesan seminary, and then it’s on to the Diocese of Brooklyn’s St. Joseph’s Co-Cathedral for Mass and a chance to recap their adventures with young people.

Father Fitzgerald, a former Olympic athlete, played on the U.S. team handball squad in the 1996 games in Atlanta. A college baseball and football player at Ithaca, he also played professional handball in Sweden.

The five men in black have been working out for months, riding their bikes for two hours, for about 30 miles, each day.

“Sometimes, we do road work and other days we’re on stationary bikes,” said Father Swartvagher, who admitted to some trepidation in the final week of preparation, but noted the seminarians were more concerned with their final exams and papers.

Before the group started the trip, they took part in a video that has as its soundtrack “Our God Is an Awesome God.” That’s the message they said they hope to deliver on their pilgrimage for vocations.

In addition to their website, there also is a Biking4Vocations Facebook page and Twitter account, and the group will be checking in with “Currents,” a daily news show on the Brooklyn Diocese’s NET-TV operation.


Wilkinson is editor of the Tablet, Brooklyn’s diocesan newspaper.