An Interview with Sister Stephanie Baliga

By Gordon Nary

Gordon: In our celebrity culture, you have been profiled in score of publications primarily for your celebrated  athleticism and running skills. Some of my favorite interviews are in The Catholic New World;. Spirituality& Health  and The Daily Northwestern .all of which I hope that our readers will  review   So i will try to address  some issues  that may not be addressed in more detail in these article. Your running avocation has  helped raise critical funding to help support the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels 

What is the connection between spirituality and athletic commitment,


Sister Stephanie: Running is a beautiful metaphor for the spiritual life in that similar disciplines and virtues are needed for success in both. Additionally, running provides an interesting medium for practicing (and actually) suffering. Miles 23-25 of a marathon are pretty brutal; however, this suffering is both quite temporary, done by choice, and immediately gratified by the finish line. These difficult, but essentially “practice” experiences very much prepare us for when we encounter real physical suffering in our own lives. Personally, I also think that running helps me pray in that the physical exertion actually helps me concentrate better. I am a very high energy person, so sometimes praying sitting still is a challenge.


Gordon: There has always been something heroic about athletic competition and the  motivation and endurance in striving for success. Some have even noted that athletic heroes,  especially in the United Sates, have often become secular saints. especially to children, who often look to sports figures need role models   Did you have any athletes as role models hen you were young?


Sister Stephanie: I did in fact. I very much looked up to American running legends- Joan Benoit Samuelson, Pre, Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers etc. I also looked up to contemporaries such as Khalid Khannouch and various obscure African runners.  If I was case study, your suggestions are true in that these athletes really were saints in my mind. Ironically, I was given the chance to finally meet Khalid K as an adult (and as a religious sister)- it was still like meeting a famous movie star.


Gordon: The continuing loss of young people leaving the Catholic Church has often been referred to metaphorically as running from God in hundreds  of articles including this one by Mary Morrell . You may have started to reverse this trend by literally running to God.  How. in your opinion, does a commitment to athleticism help in  bring some closer to God?


Sister Stephanie: Obviously the word running has many connotations. Running as an endurance sport (or any endurance athletics), as I was mentioning above, provides a medium to grow in discipline/ virtue. Additionally, running often times has a huge community associated with it. I specifically think that young adult running groups associated with parishes could be a huge help to young adult ministry. It’s difficult to get young adults to come to church to something JUST for church, but if we can associate a Bible study group with a running group or something like this I think we can get more people involved. The better shape that I am in the better that I can pray as well- good physical fitness can improve your ability to concentrate and function as a Christian. However, one must be careful that running does not replace God as sometimes we (myself included) can fall into that trap.


Gordon: Your commitment to the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels is inspirational. This video provides a great overview of hour you and your colleagues serve you community


Gordon: Could you describe one of your typical day of service


Sister Stephanie: We ground our day in the Liturgy of the Hours, Mass and Adoration. Beyond that, there is no typical day at Mission of Our Lady of the Angels. Every single day there an amazing number of variables literally show up at our doorstep- both neighbors that need assistance and benefactors coming to donate material goods. It is an amazing illustration of God’s providential love for the poor.


Gordon: Do you have any suggestions of what the City of Chicago could do to specifically help reduce the poverty in  your community?


Sister Stephanie: I try not to be super critical of people (city or non city) who are attempting to help our neighborhood here on the west side. With that in mind, my main suggestion would be to improve cops’ ability to confiscate illegal firearms./


Gordon: How can our local readers volunteer to assist your staff in various program


Sister Stephanie: We run almost all of our programs through the assistance of volunteers. Please visit our volunteer page HERE and our calendar page HERE to see how you can get involved. If you have any questions you can e-mail me off the website- all the e-mails on the website go to my inbox.


Gordon: How can our readers donate to support your mission ?


Sister Stephanie: We run completely off donations from people like you. You can check out how to donate HERE.


Gordon: I understand that you provide presentations at some of our local parishes as part of their Theology on Tap  and other educational programs.  What are some of the topics that you discuss?  


Sister Stephanie: Yes! We do a variety of topics. I’ve done talks about Athletics and Faith (expounds upon my above statements about how sports can help you develop virtue), Catholic Social Teaching, and about the Mission in general. Sr. Alicia, another sister in my community, also speaks on various topics at Theology on Taps in the area.


Gordon: I thought in closing, in recognition of you running skills, and especially your great sense of humor. some of our  readers who play board games may be interested on playing  Nuns of the Run, and the winners make a donation to support your critical work



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