Connecticut man races through deserts for good causes

When Tom Gallagher said he wanted to go out into the desert, he wasn’t just using a biblical metaphor.

The Riverside, Conn., ultraendurance athlete and Catholic is gearing up for his third seven-day footrace through 150 miles of desert to raise money for Malta House for pregnant women and children. His first two races through The 4 Deserts program were in the Atacama Desert in Chile and the Gobi Desert in China.

In Chile, Gallagher carried a 25-pound backpack filled with meals ready to eat, a sleeping bag, drink mix, socks, a foot kit to treat blisters, and nighttime equipment. Temperatures reached lows of 20 degrees at night and highs in the 80s during the day. Ice cold streams numbed his feet. Thick sand enveloped his shins.

He and about 70 others raced for seven to nine hours each day and slept on the desert floor. The first day began at 10,000 feet above sea level, and they climbed to 11,000 feet before descending to 8,000 feet.

Each day, Gallagher read his morning prayers using torn-out pages from the Magnificat. He recited simple prayers in his head throughout the day during tough points. He read evening prayers before bed. He finished the race in 29th place.

Gallagher wrote a speech to share his experiences. In it, he reflects on his faith and the biblical sensation of going out into the desert:

“I went into the desert and in fact met God–in the beauty of the desert itself and in the people with whom I journeyed the 150 miles in six days. Our Christian faith revels itself in the magnificence of the earth, and the Atacama Desert is truly an icon of God. Yet, the beauty of our faith is intimately revealed in relationships–ours with God and ours with each other. I came out of the desert with several lifetime friends. Such an undertaking teaches a person about the joys of the little things: a drink of water, the benefits of shade, the vital necessity of a good fire, the help of friends and the uplift of encouraging words.”

An entrepreneur, Gallagher works for a communications firm in New York  and writes the “best practices” column for the National Catholic Reporter. He will race through the Sahara Desert in Egypt in October.

Jim McGinnis, teacher of peace, dead at 66

Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, and Jim McGinnis met in 2008 to discuss nonviolence programs and McGinnis' "Gandhi Guidebook for High Schools." The book was commissioned by the Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence during a visit to Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tenn. (Courtesy Institute for Peace and Justice)

Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, and Jim McGinnis met in 2008 to discuss nonviolence programs and McGinnis' "Gandhi Guidebook for High Schools." The book was commissioned by the Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence during a visit to Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tenn. (Courtesy Institute for Peace and Justice)

Jim McGinnis, who for nearly 40 years was an advocate and educator for peace and justice, died from a heart attack Aug. 13 near his home in St. Louis.

McGinnis, 66, and his wife, Kathy, were partners in running the Institute for Peace and Justice in St. Louis and the effort to bring peace education curricula to schools across the country. Their “Educating for Peace and Justice, A Manual for Teachers” was the first of its kind in the U.S. It has been revised numerous times and has become a popular resource for schools around the world.

Janice Vanderhaar, an ambassador of peace with Pax Christi USA and a friend of the McGinnises, said in a statement distributed by Pax Christi that the educator died while on an early morning walk.

McGinnis’ work on behalf of peace and justice evolved after a stint in the Tennessee National Guard and being assigned to a unit in Memphis, Tenn., at the time of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Kathy McGinnis told CNS Aug. 15.

In 1970 McGinnis launched the Institute for the Study of Peace, which later became the Institute for Peace and Justice. The institute evolved as the Vietnam War deepened, student protesters and nonprotesters were killed at Kent State University in Ohio and Jackson State University in Mississippi, and the Jesuit-run St. Louis University decided to retain its ROTC program despite a recommendation by the school’s University Council to alter or terminate it

The McGinnises soon began to integrate peacemaking into their family. From that effort they developed a book, “Parenting for Peace and Justice,” and subsequently an international network to teach peacemaking.

Pax Christ USA awarded the McGinnises the 1995 Teacher of Peace Award.

A memorial Mass will be celebrated at 7 p.m., Aug. 18 at St. Alphonsus Liguori Parish in St. Louis. Messages of remembrance can be left on Pax Christi’s Facebook page.

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