By Christina Leslie | Correspondent
“It was like a spiritual battle,” Greg Dougherty said of his nearly 1,400-mile solo nautical pilgrimage to mark the centennial of the Marian apparitions at Fatima. “We must put our trust in God, and this mission was by the grace of God only.”
As president of the Covington Diocese (Kentucky) World Apostolate of Fatima, Dougherty’s mission to promote the Blessed Mother’s message of peace led him and two others to plan to row a boat across the Atlantic from New York to Ireland in a 54-day novena. Complications with that vessel, and his companions’ sudden military deployments, led him to what he referred to as “Plan B”: a solo trip up the Intracoastal Waterway from Miami Beach to New York City, including near Trenton, in an 18-foot tandem rowboat.
The boat, christened “Santa Maria de la Fatima” and emblazoned with pictures of Mary and the web address “Rowing4Fatima.com,” was outfitted with bags of dried food, clothes, emergency gear, a GPS, a radio and a statue of its namesake, Our Lady of Fatima. Doughtery, a former professional rugby player, set off June 13, the centennial of the second apparition, and intended to reach New York City by late September, which he accomplished.
The weather and wildlife he encountered along the way, however, proved to be important elements of the journey. “There was a violent thunderstorm in Biscayne Bay [Florida], but I felt God’s protection,” Dougherty recalled. “It reminded me when Jesus rebuked the disciples and quieted the seas (Matthew 8:24-26).”
Alligators, their eyes glowing in the dark, were his companions one evening in Georgia as he slept in the front portion of his rowboat. “I remembered the promise Our Lady gave to the three shepherd children: the promise of a happy death,” he said, and laughed, “but this would not have been a happy death.”
Dougherty visited churches along his route and spoke with a few congregations about the importance of the messages of Fatima for today. “It wasn’t just me and my boat,” he said. “People were praying for the mission daily, and a few parishes along the way embraced me. At the ones which did, it became a community event. The charity gave me energy.”
Despite roiling seas forcing Dougherty to portage, or remove the boat from the water, three times (including near Trenton), despite the approaching menaces of Hurricane José and Hurricane Maria, despite damage to the rowboat’s support arms, and despite his aching muscles from hour after hour of rowing, the 48-year-old kept the light of his faith as constant as the North Star.
“The message of Fatima was to offer up everything you can for the conversion of sinners. I must have prayed that prayer thousands of times,” Dougherty said. “I wear the brown scapular and pray the Rosary and Fatima prayers daily.”
“When I didn’t pray and just focused on the pain, I was tired and thirsty,” he continued. “Where your mind goes, the body follows. But when I prayed the Rosary, my rowing time doubled.”
Now back in Bellevue, Ky., Dougherty is preparing for a new journey: the priesthood. The fervent Catholic has applied to seminaries along the route and is awaiting an answer to his request to serve the Lord on dry land. Yet, he looks back upon his journey of faith with a renewed fervor and appreciation.
“There was silence out there, but no loneliness,” Dougherty said of the pilgrimage he rowed with a statue of Mary alongside him. “This trip gave me a sense of humility. God provided for me this whole way.”