Support St. Bede chaplain, 70, and students as they ‘polar plunge’ for Special Olympics

Father Ronald Margherio, OSB, chaplain of St. Bede Academy in Peru, leaps with students into the chilly Illinois River during a polar plunge last year. Father Ronald, who just turned 70, will take the plunge again -- joined by 40 St. Bede students -- on Feb. 29 in Mendota to raise money for Special Olympics. (Provided photo)

PERU — What better way for a priest to celebrate turning 70 than by running fully clothed into a lake of frigid water on the last day of February?

“It should be fun,” said Father Ronald Margherio, OSB, chaplain of St. Bede Academy in Peru, in anticipating a Leap Day plunge into Lake Mendota on Feb. 29. “My doctor said don’t worry about it.”

Father Ronald, whose 70th birthday was Feb. 11, will have a lot of youthful company. About 40 students from St. Bede also plan to take part in a polar plunge to benefit Special Olympics in Illinois.

“I’ve been encouraging the students that if someone as old and fat as me can do it, they can do it,” said Father Ronald. Because each participant has to raise $100 in pledges in order to experience the joy of plunging, the St. Bede group will donate at least $4,000. And that warms their chaplain’s heart.

“You can’t move fast enough to get out of there,” Father Ronald recalls of his two previous polar plunge experiences.

“We try to get them in the mode of serving others all the time, not just to get required service hours,” Father Ronald told The Catholic Post.  As another example, Father Ronald and St. Bede students have also been involved with a Habitat for Humanity home-build in Ottawa and will soon work on another such project in Ladd.


For those thinking the cold-water dive is a one-and-done experience, think again. Father Ronald is an experienced plunger.

“This is my third year,” he said. Two years ago, Ally Borkowski — a St. Bede student from Ottawa — encouraged Father Ronald and fellow students to take part in a polar plunge in her city to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation. That event called for leaping into the Illinois River from a dock at Heritage Harbor.

Father Ronald and about 20 students did just that in 2018. They did it again in 2019.

“It’s not so bad,” he tells the skeptical reporter. “I thought it would take my breath away and paralyze me, but it does just the opposite. You can’t move fast enough to get out of there. It’s very invigorating.”

Not that the situation improves when the soaking-wet participant leaves the water. It could be just the opposite.

“It’s the air that’s the problem,” said Father Ronald. “The water is never 32 degrees, because it would be frozen solid.” The air, however, could be colder. Fortunately, a warm tent and change of clothes awaits close by.

The polar plunge is not out of character for the Benedictine priest, who in just the past few years has skydived twice — the first at age 67 as a gift from former students and the second with successful bidders on the experience from the St. Bede auction. At age 68, he went white-water rafting with his brother.

“You get to a point you think ‘I can still do this,’” said Father Ronald, who has no fear of heights and hopes to someday ride in a hot-air balloon. Just don’t ask him to ride on the back of a motorcycle. That scares him.

While medical personnel will be present at the Mendota event, Father Ronald had a quick answer when asked if the St. Bede group will pray before taking the frigid plunge.

“Of course we will!” he said with a hearty laugh.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To support Father Ronald or a St. Bede student, click here. (While it may show that Father Ronald has few donations, he has been recruiting privately and reports a generous amount.) Checks made out to “Polar Plunge” may also be mailed to Father Ronald Margherio, OSB, St. Bede Abbey/Academy, 24 W. U.S. Highway 6  Peru, IL  61354-2903.



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