Priest Starts Marathon Effort for Abuse Victims

By Tom Shea
Republican [Springfield MA]
April 8, 2004

Like a lot of Catholic priests, and so many of the faithful, Father Dan Pacholec was feeling upset.

No, worse. He was feeling helpless.

This was in February, days after the bishop of Springfield, had fled under the cover of night. But no matter how fast Thomas Dupre traveled toward St. Luke's Institute in Maryland, a psychiatric facility better known for treating pedophiles than the heart condition that the diocese had first announced he was being hospitalized for, the allegations that he'd abused children trailed him every mile.

Springfield has been no stranger to predatory clerics. But because the newest alleged member was a bishop, the headline ink was especially black. The news segments lasted longer than 60 seconds. The words roiled the diocese.

Father Dan, the diocesan vocation's director, told a friend of his helpless feelings.

The friend listened. But, more importantly, challenged him: "Are you sure there is nothing you can do to help?"

This caused Father Dan to pause. Then to pray. On Ash Wednesday he went to see the film "The Passion of The Christ." Then he found inspiration in the new Bishop Timothy McDonnell quoting Mother Teresa: "There's nothing so bad that God can't bring a greater good out of it if we let him."

The intersection of a well-phrased challenge, a powerful motion picture, and the belief of a tiny woman repeated by a new bishop who has been saying all the right things forced Father Dan from the sidelines.

There was something he could do. Something that demanded sweat equity, something that resembled redemptive pain and that could help the people ignored by so many priests through decades. He would try to help the victims of clergy abuse.

Forty-five-year-old Father Dan, 20 pounds overweight, with less than two months to train, decided to run the Boston Marathon April 19 to help establish a fund for victims of sexual abuse in the Springfield diocese. The fund will be administered by the families of abuse victims.

He joins Father Gene Honan, now pastor of St. Mary's in Northampton, and Father Jim Scahill, pastor of St. Michael's in East Longmeadow, as priests who have made public stands in the name of victims.

Such a stand was rare in this diocese that had a "Felon Fund" for priests who abused, but nothing for victims, where so many of the accused clerics held hierarchical positions of power and influence.

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing," the old saying goes.

Maybe that is why so many priests cried after Bishop Dupre left town in need of help and a good lawyer. They recognized their own silence.

Father Dan says he is no maverick.

The Holyoke native is a product of 12 years of Catholic schools, Holyoke Community College and Amherst College. He was an executive at the former Steiger's department store before entering the seminary. Ordained nearly eight years ago, he is now based at Cathedral High School and for the past three years has traveled the diocese promoting the religious life.

Soft-spoken with a self-deprecating sense of humor, Father Dan has run the Boston Marathon four times, as a member of Griffin's Friends, a charity that raises money for children with cancer. He thought he had run his last marathon in 2001.

"My times?" Father Dan laughs. "Let's just say that when the winner crosses the finish line at like two hours, 14 minutes. I will still have three more hours of running to do."

And he'll do it. Father Dan comes from good Polish stock. Endurance is his strength. Blisters will be ignored. He has been diligent about putting in his miles in on the treadmill at Healthtrax in West Springfield.

Ten days ago, he sent out pledge cards to fellow priests and former parishioners, asking for support in this marathon run for healing and hope.

The first day's mail brought $3,000 worth of promises to Father Dan's mailbox at 260 Surrey Road, Springfield 01118. He'll welcome all the help he can get.

Twenty-six miles is a long way. But there will be water stops and cheers. The road to hope and healing, with its own heartbreak hills, is a more arduous haul.

Here's to the wind at Father Dan Pacholec's back, in both challenges.

Tom Shea can be reached at


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