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Running the Race on this Earth

Marian T. Horvat
sister madonna budar riding a bicycle in scanty attire

Who is this scrawny-legged old woman in scanty clothing bending over a bike in deep concentration on winning a race as Contestant n. 161.

Fifty years ago she would have been a figure of scorn, or perhaps elicit some pity from the more tender-hearted who could be embarrassed for an old lady who has no better sense than show her scraggly bony limbs in public.

She is Sister Madonna Buder, an 87-year-old member of the Sisters for Christian Community. Nicknamed “the Iron Nun,” she has completed over 325 triathlons 45 Ironman triathlons, which is to swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles and run a 26.2 mile marathon all in one day. She has written a book – The Grace to Run – and was featured in a 2016 Nike Commercial under the slogan “Unlimited youth.” She also explains her commitment to running in speaking engagements around the world.

This is the modern Vatican II sister. Free to communicate out in nature with God – “It doesn't make any difference to Him what position you are in as long as you are communicating,” she explains. “I train religiously,” she is quoted as saying.

An old photograph of madonna buder when she first became a nun

Buder as a Sister of the Good Shepherd

She entered religious life at age 23, joining the Sisters of the Good Shepherd founded by Saint Mary Euphrasia Pelletier in 1835. Their mission was to educate and work with delinquent girls. The contemplative branch of their order, the Madalen nuns, offered their prayers for the active order.

Then, as you can see at right, she wore a full habit. Posing in the garden, one sees the face of an idealistic young woman, somewhat optimistic and a bit superficial, common defects of Americans of that era. But instead of developing the spirit of contemplation, sacrifice and dedication to the religious ideal that inspired the daughters of Mother Mary Ephrasia, she got caught up in the revolution that came with Vatican II.

She started running, encouraged by a priest who told her and the other sisters it would help harmonize mind, body and soul. Soon, running and training became a mania; she entered one marathon after another. With this new regime of training the body came the decision to join a new ecumenical religious order for women founded in 1970 “in direct response to Vatican Council II,” but independent of the authority of the Catholic Church.

Each member of the Sisters for Christian Community does her own thing, makes her own living and finds her own special calling. Their primary mission is to “work toward a global community of equality, justice and integrity.” She became a model of the “sister of the future” who asserts she is living out to the fullest the spirit of Vatican II.

The result: this gollum-limbed woman in her 80s aims to be the oldest person, male or female, to finish an Ironman triathlon. Her first priority is running the good race on earth, not making the good fight and finishing the race for Heaven. (1) And the faith she keeps appears to be a new one, different from the age-old teaching and traditions of the Catholic Church.

sister Madonna Buder giving the peace sign

  1. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Tim 4:7)
Posted February 19, 2018

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