Nun on the run in Chicago Marathon

October 6, 2011 (CHICAGO)

As ABC 7's Ravi Baichwal reports, her journey is for other people as much as it shows how running and her faith are intertwined.

Sister Stephanie Baliga welcomes the challenge of resurrecting a church and parish that has lain dormant for decades -- and that carries a heartbreaking legacy.

The great schoolhouse fire of December 1, 1958, claimed the lives of 92 children and three nuns when they were trapped by flames in the building next to the church. Now, Sister Stephanie is a key leader of the Chicago Archdiocese's efforts to rebuild this place and minister to the West Side community it sits in.

"We have $40,000 left, so hopefully the marathon will take out a big chunk of that," said Sister Stephanie.

Sister Stephanie will run in this weekend's Chicago Marathon, along with 13 other teammates, to raise funds for Our Lady of the Angels. It will be a labor of love for a 23-year-old who not four years ago was an elite member of the University of Illinois Division I cross-country team.

Stephanie was running up to 70 miles per week while studying economics when she broke her right foot, an epiphany, she says, that led her to her calling.

"I never thought of becoming a sister before then," Sister Stephanie said. "The Lord made it pretty clear, I am pretty dense, so the Lord had to give me a whack on the head so that I would really do it."

As the workers struggle to restore the 1939 building as part of a $2.2 million renovation, Sister Stephanie, a novitiate who is still about four years away from becoming a full-fledged nun, marvels at how Bank of America's $1 million pledge for afterschool programs is the kind of support that will help her feed the hungry and shelter the homeless.

"It is about making sure you reach them after school so they do their homework," said Sister Stephanie. "They hopefully learn what they need to do and stay off the streets and out of the violence and out of bad situations."

Sister Stephanie says she will be running in something called a knee-length running skirt, which will not hinder her performance. While she won't wear a traditional head covering, as part of her faith she will wear a bandana.

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