Several times a week, the Rev. Richard Maloney travels the 23.5 miles from his home in Laurel to the church he attends in Davidsonville, Md., "in comfort" -- by car.
But yesterday, for Christmas, the Catholic cleric purposely did the trip in pain -- on foot, and in mid-40-degree temperatures made much colder by a cutting 15 mph wind.
Maloney, 43, said that any pain was trivial compared to the gain: at least $9,000 pledged to help victims of the Ethiopian drought, a more than symbolic donation of good will on Christmas Day.
"I just felt myself standing still on the whole issue," said Maloney, his wit undiminished by the 3 1/2-hour run he had made with jogging partner and fellow DeMatha High School teacher Chris Meagher. "As someone who wears a collar, I felt I had to do more."
"He said he had to do it on Christmas Day," said Peg Kearney, one of a group waiting for Maloney and Meagher at the church. "Some of his students wanted to run with him and asked him to do it another day. But he said it had to be on Christmas Day, that the whole point is to give something up."
Most of the money raised by Maloney and Meagher will be channeled to Ethiopia through the Catholic Relief Services, a national organization based in New York. The organization has collected $20 million in the last three months, much of it in small contributions gathered through fund-raising efforts such as yesterday's run, a Catholic Relief spokesman said.
About 25 of Maloney's fellow parishioners were waiting, many in their cars to escape the chill wind, when he and his partner jogged into the parking lot of the Holy Family Catholic Church yesterday.
"I have never wanted to be at a church so much in all my life," Maloney wheezed, collapsing against a car. "I feel awful, I really do. It would be a con to say I feel great. There has got to be a better way to spend Christmas. . . . I tell you, if it wasn't for the $9,000 bucks, I wouldn't have been out there."
"I call it preaching with my feet," explained Maloney, who frequently preaches at Holy Family. "I do it with my mouth all the time, and I'm always telling people that their deeds have to match their words."
Maloney and Meagher spent the last two weeks obtaining pledges for each mile that they ran from teachers and students at DeMatha and from friends and parishioners.
"I had three or four people say they would pay me nothing for the first 22 miles and $50 for the last mile," Maloney said.
"Well, Father, you've shamed me into doubling my pledge," confessed Anthony Caporale as he took out his checkbook. "I decided if he could do this, I should meet him, and not only meet him, but meet him with my checkbook in hand."
Meagher, 25, a religion teacher whose longest previous run was 10 miles, stopped running a mile short of the church, after he threw up. "I said, 'I'm going to keep going,' and my wife said, 'No, you're not.' "
Maloney teaches English and coaches cross country at DeMatha, and his students were among his strongest boosters. Around the five-mile mark, he said, "a kid in my home room gave me this cross."
"He said it was on loan," Maloney said. "I tell you, God had to be in this somewhere, because He had the wind at our back the whole time."
Raising money in unusual ways is not unusual for Maloney, say those who know him. He regularly plays basketball one-on-one with his students at DeMatha.
"We play for money, or we don't play at all," he explained. "With juniors and seniors, I don't play for less than $5, all for Ethiopia. I walk into the cafeteria and say, 'C'mon, you guys got more bucks than I do.' "
Maloney said that he usually spends Christmas Day with his family in Philadelphia.
"I've had more than 40 Christmases that haven't been messed up," he said. "And, really, this one hasn't been messed up at all." Others wishing to contribute to fight the starvation in Ethiopia in honor of Maloney's Christmas run can send contributions, care of him, to DeMatha Catholic High School, 4313 Madison St., Hyattsville, Md., 20782. Checks should be made payable to Catholic Relief Services.