By Steve Vivona
Chairman of the Board for the Bread and Life Soup Kitchen since
1994, Reverend James J. Maher, C.M., wanted to come up with a "New
York anchor," that would encourage people to participate in the
program. "The New York City marathon was a tremendous New York
anchor with the wonderful and natural way the diversity of the city
comes together. It's incredibly focused."
Fr. Maher said the opportunity here was to use the energy and
diversity that surrounds the marathon "and use at least a portion
of it to put a spotlight on hunger and poverty, to raise
consciousness about it but also to say, 'You can do something about
this. You can make a difference.' That's where the concept really
The 26-mile marathon is a tremendous challenge, Fr. Maher noted.
"We're linking it to something else which is also a tremendous
challenge. And here there's no finish line and few water spots."
This year Fr. Maher finished the marathon in 5:55 and was pleased
by all the support he received. A dozen runners joined him, and he
estimated that between $10-15,000 was raised with money still
Through his work with the soup kitchen, "I've learned more than
I've given. I've grown more than I've given. It's been a real
blessing and a privilege to be in a position of leadership." Fr.
Maher stressed that one of the most important goals of the program
is to stabilize families and support. Fr. Maher applauded the work
of Executive Director Larry Gile, whose hard work has enabled them
to use 80 cents of every dollar raised for services to the
The program's location is of special significance to Fr. Maher
who noted that is where St. John's University's first campus was
located. "I think for the employees (of St. John's) who participate
in programs like Fridays in the Soup Kitchen, there's a tremendous
anchor for them to go to a place where St. John's started. I think
for all of us it has tremendous spiritual value because it's about
being connected to your roots."
Fr. Maher's roots in the Vincentian community run deep. His
brother, Fr. John Maher, C.M., is a Vincentian, and as a student at
St. John's Fr. Jim experienced a great deal of kindness and support
from Vincentian priests here. "Coming into contact with those kind
of guys gave me a real nice look into the life."
After graduation Fr. Maher volunteered for a year with the
Vincentian Service Corps. "I've always felt attracted to the
Vincentian mission and charism, and there were many people who were
role models for me. I've really been blessed and fortunate with the
people I've encountered here and who've been examples about the
blessings and challenges of this life."
One of the things that is "embedded" in the Vincentian
spirituality, Fr. Maher said, "is opening yourself to meet Christ
in the poor and vulnerable." He added, "You always have to be
brought back to that. When that's the focus you can tolerate a lot
more things and do a lot more things because essentially you're
acting out of something that's out of your spiritual core."
As important as it is to serve, Fr. Maher observed that
underlying that "you have to be willing to cross over to the world
of the poor and be challenged by that in every way and facet of