Courtesy of Robin McShane

Father Ryan Lerner, the new chaplain of Saint Thomas More, stood beaming on the steps of the chapel on Monday. Six members of his congregation stood below him as he began to read the blessing. This was not an unusual scene except for one detail — the bright blue running shoes sticking out from beneath his robe.

At 7 a.m. on Monday morning, Lerner blessed those who were about to run in the Faxon Law New Haven Road Race, before running the half-marathon himself.

“Strong and faithful God — we ask for you to bless these runners who are gathered here today,” he read from his blessing. “Bless them and keep them safe from injury and harm. Reward them for their perseverance. In struggle, may the lord renew their strength so that they may soar on wings like eagles, run and not grow weary.”

After beginning his tenure as the eighth chaplain of STM in March, Lerner has since been adjusting to life at Yale and the chapel.

Archbishop Leonard P. Blair appointed Lerner to the position of STM chaplain in March. He succeeded Chaplain Robert Beloin, known as Father Bob, who had served as Chaplain of STM for 25 years until he died from a form of brain cancer last year. Father Gerry Schmitz  served as interim chaplain since Beloin’s death in September 2018.

The Faxon Law New Haven Road Race was a fitting setting for Lerner to begin the school year. Lerner has been running since he was a child and competed in track and field during high school and college. He also served as a track and field assistant coach at his college following his graduation.

Lerner still runs every day for an hour — sometimes up Whitney Avenue to the base of East Rock, other times through wooded trails. He sees running as a way to see and get to know the neighborhoods around him. While he noted he had some typical raceday nervousness this Monday, he felt ready for the half marathon, having run marathons before. Running, in some ways, led Lerner to priesthood — the captains of his high school track team would ask him to lead a prayer for the 100-person group before each meet.

Growing up, Lerner’s mother was Catholic and his father was Jewish. When he was 12, his entire family converted to Catholicism. He studied history and religion in college and public policy in graduate school, before working as a nursing home administrator. He decided to enter the priesthood in 2008 and later served as parochial vicar at St. Margaret Parish in Madison, Connecticut. In December 2016, he was appointed chancellor of the Archdiocese of Hartford.

Lerner said he was looking forward to the upcoming school year at STM, and was particularly excited to have students back on campus.

“I love the fall — it reminds me of college and coaching. It’s a time when things get busy and there’s a lot going on at the University here, and I’m excited to be a part of that for the very first time,” he added.

On Thursday, STM will hold its inaugural Reverend Robert L. Beloin Lecture on Contemporary Theology, featuring a talk entitled “Academics Beyond Ideology, Fashion, and Fad” from visiting Reverend Ronald Rolheiser, president of the Oblate School of Theology.

Helena Lyng-Olsen |

Correction, Sept. 4: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Father Ryan studied English and religion. He studied history and religion.