“And it made me - it forced me to reevaluate my life priorities and realize that I had pretty much placed running on this pedestal. It was how I defined myself and how I thought, how I understood who I was, and how I explained myself everybody else.”
But the injury, and the time off, made Baliga realize that her approach to running, and to life, was “super-not-sustainable and really didn’t make sense. So I needed to completely reevaluate what I was thinking about my life and who I was.”
It was during that time that Baliga connected with some students from her campus Newman Center and began delving deeper into her Catholic faith. She said when her friends invited her on a retreat, she was ready to go.
“I was pretty open to it,” Baliga told CNA. “It was pretty clear that Jesus was preparing for me to be ready for that point in time.”
It was on that retreat, during Eucharistic Adoration, that Baliga said she encountered the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist in a new way.
“There was this increasingly intense realization of his presence and the sense, the knowledge that Jesus was really there in the Eucharist and this is real, it’s not just some stuff that people say because it's nice to talk about, or it's nice because it ties the theology together. But this is actually real...and that I needed to completely change the ways that I live my life.”
After that retreat experience, it didn’t take long for Baliga to realize she was being called to the vocation of religious life.
“So I’m kind of an extreme person,” Baliga said.
She said after the experience of realizing Jesus is real, she took time to delve more deeply into prayer and her faith community. It wasn’t long after that that she realized she was being called. “It was only like five months, because I'm extreme,” she added.
Baliga said she felt drawn to a Franciscan order from the start of her discernment because of their “love of the Eucharist and focus on the Eucharist, and love of the poor and work with the poor, and then (living in) actual poverty.”
As she was looking into different religious orders, Baliga said she considered one that would have required her to completely give up running, because it wouldn’t have been compatible with that order’s way of life. In prayer, she said, she told Jesus that if he was asking her to give up running, that was ok.
“I told Jesus that if he really would rather me not run ever again, that's what I'll do...if that's what's needed, that's what I'll do,” she said.
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
“And that was just kind of this experience of freedom in that once I gave run into Jesus, which is what I did at that moment, it then became his. And then he was able to use it for his glory instead of me being selfish and prideful and...showy about my running.”
Around February of her senior year, Baliga found the sisters that she would soon join - the Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago. A relatively new religious community, there were only two other sisters in the order at that time.
Baliga decided to join after graduating from the University of Illinois in 2009.
The order encourages sisters to exercise as their schedule allows, and Baliga has been able to keep up her running - though not in full habit, she said.
“I wear a bandana, and a T-shirt, and then a long running skirt with tights,” she said.
“Some orders do run in their habits because they're shorter, but ours...we have ankle-length habits. It would be kind of a problem.”
Sr. Baliga ran her first marathon as a sister in 2011, and for the past several years has used the Chicago Marathon as a chance to recruit people to be on a team that raises donations for her order’s mission.