JEFFERSON PARK — A Jefferson Park man is set to leave next week to make a 500-mile pilgrimage in Spain to raise money for St. Robert Bellarmine Church.
Jim Ryan, 70, who has been a member of the Jefferson Park church for 44 years, set up an online fundraiser to benefit St. Robert Bellarmine, 4646 N. Austin Ave.
But he doesn't much care if anyone donates — even though the effort is almost halfway to its goal of $10,000.
"If you want to give me money, that's fine," said Ryan, who plans to do the journey by bike. "But I really just want to let people know what a great community we have here at St. Robert Bellarmine."
Ryan, whose wife died of cancer in March, was married at St. Robert Bellarmine in 1970. His five children graduated from the parish's school.
"We had a good life," Ryan said. "This is my way of saying thank you, and giving back."
Heather Cherone says Ryan lost his wife this year to cancer:
Ryan said he had always thought about making a pilgrimage, and his daughter pushed him to make the 500-mile journey along the Camino de Santiago — or St. James' Way — stretching through northern Spain and southern France to Santiago de Compostela where some believe St. James is buried in the crypt in the cathedral.
"She pushed me along, and set everything up, and now it is too late to back out," Ryan said with a laugh.
Ryan is no stranger to long bicycle rides — he rode from Chicago to Washington, D.C., to raise money for charity in 2008 — and isn't concerned about the physical toll the trip will take on his body.
"It is not like running a marathon," Ryan said, adding that he plans to ride between 30 and 35 miles a day on his mountain bike through the dirt path through rural Spain. "It won't be that big of a challenge."
Before Ryan leaves Monday, a special Mass will be celebrated at 5 p.m. Saturday, and the Rev. Neil Fackler will bless Ryan's bicycle.
In addition, students at St. Robert Bellarmine will follow his journey in class, Principal Carrie Mijal said.
"This is a wonderful way to showcase a global and spiritual experience in our classrooms," Mijal said.
Ryan plans to return home Oct. 15.
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