Though Dr. Joseph Jim Creely has qualified for the prestigious Boston Marathon eight years in a row, he still thinks of running as simply an opportunity to spend time with God.
Creely — a member of St. Bernadette Church who is in formation to become an ordained deacon — ran the 125th Boston Marathon Oct. 11.
When he started running close to 20 years ago Creely said he was immediately drawn to the running community and wanted to be a part of it.
“You can meet a runner anywhere and there’s a connection,” said Creely, an ear, nose and throat specialist.
That’s because running a marathon is a “great equalizer,” he said in a recent interview.
“It’s one of the few places where everyone has to come up to the start line” with nothing but the ability to run the race, he said. “It strips away extraneous things, there’s no status. … It’s just you and the race doing the best with the body God gave you.”
To qualify for the Boston race, Creely, 57, had to complete a marathon in at least 3 hours and 35 minutes — for his age and gender — which placed him in the top five percent of runners in the country, he said.
Running the Boston Marathon is a “unique experience. I love the people in Boston. Runners need the people to cheer them on. A whole community comes together,” he said, noting that the runners tend to come together, too, for the good of fellow runners.
They’ll “sacrifice the run to help another,” he said.
“It’s how God wants us to be a group — helping each other cross the finish line, not trip others so we can cross for our own good,” he said.
Creely has always been active, but he enjoys running in particular.
“It’s my time with God. When you get out there you can think, meditate and clear your mind of debris,” he said. “It’s therapeutical and it’s spiritual.”
Creely said running gives him an appreciation for the physical body God gave him and it helps him be a “good steward” of his physical, mental and spiritual health.
Sometimes God can be seen as a “nebulous creator,” far away, he said, but the physical body is a reminder that God is present in the world.
“He sent his son to be with us physically. He’s given us physical bodies to be a part of this world,” said Creely. “Corporal things aren’t bad when used for the purposes God gave to us. They are holy and good.”
Creely is a member of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s diaconate class of 2024. His vocation started taking form about five years ago, when a deacon friend of his planted the seed, he said. The deacon said that Creely’s name kept coming up as he prayed for vocations. Though Creely wasn’t certain the diaconate was for him, he said he eventually started praying for guidance.
“I prayed on it and God spoke to me and said ‘this is the direction,’ ” said Creely. “It has been nothing but joyful for me and my wife Ellen. Things seem right. It seems like this is the direction we should be going in.”
Deacons are called to three charisms: “word, sacrament and charity,” said Deacon Dennis Nash, director of the Diaconate Office.
“We proclaim the Word at Mass, assist at funerals, preside at weddings and baptism and serve the poor, those most in need of God’s love,” said Deacon Nash.
People in need of God’s love are found everywhere — in homeless shelters, in the church and nursing homes, he said. That’s why it’s important that the “diaconate calls men from all walks of life — doctors, runners, truck drivers. They bring that experience to serve the church.”
Creely said he’s always been “goal-driven” but the diaconate formation is helping him see things differently.
“I’ve had to let go and let God take the reins and have him tell me what to do,” he said.
Creely was one of at least two local Catholic men who ran the prestigious Boston Marathon. Father Michael Tobin, pastor of St. Luke and St. Rita churches, ran the October race for charity.
The two men had connected through email, but they met in person for the first time at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston when they attended a runners’ blessing the day before the race, said Creely.
Father Tobin said he appreciated spending time with Creely and his wife in Boston.
Hearing “his story of medicine and his interest in ministry … these are the things you can’t plan, it’s grace,” Father Tobin said. “We speak the same language. We share the gift of a call to ordained ministry and a passion for running.”
Father Tobin and Creely share not only the language of running and ministry, but they also both speak Spanish. Creely’s medical practice is down the street from St. Rita Church where Father Tobin — who is vicar for Hispanic Ministry in the archdiocese — ministers to Hispanic and Latino families.
After ordination, Creely said he’s looking forward to serving in a parish and ministering to Hispanic and Latino communities.