Runners leave the starting line at the eighth annual 19154 5K race on Feb. 1 in Philadelphia’s Parkwood section. Organized by St. Anselm Parish, the event unites the community while raising funds for youth group activities. (Photo by Gina Christian)

A day before Super Bowl LIV, some 400 area runners sought one of Northeast Philly’s most coveted sports titles: first place in the eighth annual 19154 5K sponsored by St. Anselm Parish.

Open to all ages and levels, the Feb. 1 race wound through a chip-timed route in the city’s Parkwood section, with the course certified by national sports governing body USA Track & Field (USATF). Participants competed for top slots in several categories, including best finishes for men and women, St. Anselm Parish School alumni, first responders and various age brackets.

There was even a “priest” class that featured St. Anselm parochial vicar Father Addisalem Mekonnen as well as former assistant pastor and race founder Father David Friel.

The 5K began as a way to raise money for parish youth events, said Father Friel, who completed the course in just over 22 minutes.

Now pursuing a degree at The Catholic University of America, Father Friel said it was “nice to see the race going strong,” with registration at an all-time high.

“Sometimes these events go on a few years and then peter out,” he said. “I may have had the idea to start this race, but it’s the committee that has run this from day one, and that makes it come to life.”

St. Anselm’s parochial administrator Father Anthony Rossi agreed, noting that lay involvement in the project underscored the strong relationship between parishioners and the local community.

Father Anthony Rossi (left), parochial administrator of St. Anselm Parish in Philadelphia, discusses the results of the eighth annual 19154 5K with event founder and race participant Father David Friel, Feb. 1. (Gina Christian)

“The parish community is Parkwood, and Parkwood is part of our parish community,” said Father Rossi, who led race participants and organizers in prayer before the starting gun.

Describing St. Anselm as “the linchpin of the neighborhood,” Father Rossi said the parish had been built “when this area was still pheasant hunting ground,” and that it remained “intimately tied” to surrounding families and businesses.

The race also attracts runners, volunteers and donors from throughout the area, said parishioner Karen Harrison.

“We get people from as far as Ardmore and Bryn Mawr, as well as from schools such as Archbishop Ryan, St. Hubert and Holy Ghost Prep,” said Harrison. “People love it and enjoy it.”

Runner Lisa Kuliczkowski said having a parish host such an event was a “fabulous idea.”

“It brings the community together,” said Kuliczkowski, a member of the Bucks County Beer Runners team.

Top male winner Chris Mallard crossed the finish line at at 15 minutes, 59 seconds — mere hundredths of a second ahead of Matt Oleksa. Nilani Duarte led the female division at 18 minutes, 45 seconds.

But even for dedicated runner Father Mekonnen, who has also competed in the Philadelphia Half Marathon, race times were less important than the event’s eternal metric.

“It’s a great way of being among the people, and another way of being present to the people of God,” he said.