LA PLATA, Maryland — A mixture of high energy, a little friendly trash-talking and general camaraderie was in the air at the parking lot of Sacred Heart Church in La Plata on a recent Saturday morning.

More than 130 bicyclists checked their brakes, filled water bottles and geared up Sept. 18 for the annual Ride for Vocations of the Archdiocese of Washington.

Following a kick-off Mass, riders ranging from experienced long-distance cyclists to kids with their parents set out in groups on a route that snaked through 101 miles of countryside and small towns in Southern Maryland.

It was all in the interest of praying for and raising awareness about vocations. Routes that ended after 70 miles and 50 miles also were options for the cyclists.

Julie Ferrero, a staff member at Sacred Heart who has been the volunteer organizer of the bike ride, said the 138 registrants were the most ever for the event.

It began years ago with a group of priests and seminarians who rode as a team. Initially they joined a ride known as the Seagull Century, based out of Maryland’s Salisbury University, she said.

Another year, they joined the Southern Maryland Fall Century, also known as the Indian Head 100. But recently, the Ride for Vocations became its own event.

“Last year we made it a Catholic churches ride,” Ferrero said, noting the rest, refreshment and prayer stops at half a dozen mostly historic churches in the southern counties of the archdiocese — Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties.

At several churches, the Blessed Sacrament was on display and all were open for prayer. At nearly every stop, the local Knights of Columbus hosted snacks and other refreshments.

The riders this year included about 20 seminarians, eight priests, two deacons and five friars from the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, Ferrero said. Most of the participants had some connection to the archdiocese or nearby seminaries.

Justine Napier, a parishioner of St. John Neumann in Gaithersburg, Maryland, had driven from her home in Montgomery County to Charles County that morning to participate in her first long-distance ride.

Her goal: the 50-mile course. Her motivation: “because it’s for the seminarians and praying for the church.”

The chance to combine her love of bicycling and her love of the church was too tempting to miss, she told the Catholic Standard, Washington’s archdiocesan newspaper.

Dino Tolentino’s goal also was the 50-mile route, riding with his wife, Terry, and his son, Nick. Tolentino had actually ridden the 101-mile route on his own some days earlier. But he wanted to keep pace with his family for the official race.

Nick Tolentino said the family had also participated in a run for vocations. “We do as much as possible,” said his dad. Gesturing to his bicycling jersey that featured an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, he added: “I think wearing this on the road is a great witness.”

Other jerseys worn by multiple riders referred to Knights of Columbus councils, a Franciscan health care organization and Ave Maria University. Some depicted St. Michael the Archangel or other saints.

A bit of competitiveness was on display from several seminarians. Louis McHale, a theology student at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, said they wanted “to beat the faculty.”

“Father (Kevin) Regan, we’re gunning for you!” he said, with a big grin on his face.

Regan, vice rector of the St. John Paul II Seminary in Washington, is an avid bicyclist with a reputation for leaving younger riders in his dust.

Contacted after the race, McHale said Danny Morrison and Colin Snyder, two other seminarians for the archdiocese, beat Father Regan’s time.

Ferrero said the ride is “truly an archdiocesan event,” with participants from one end of the archdiocese’s territory to the other. The archdiocese covers the District of Columbia and a total of five Maryland counties.

“Starting in early July we send out daily prayers for vocations to the riders and some prayer warriors from Sacred Heart,” she said. “Each day we include the picture of a seminarian and a vocation prayer. We have a day of prayer for every seminarian, ending the day before the ride.”

This year’s event raised $50,000 through registration fees, donations and sponsorships.

She said she was especially pleased to see riders taking the time to pray — “and not just focused on the ride and the weather.”

“The most important part of the ride are the prayers,” she added. “God will provide priests, and we need to pray for these young men and women to answer the call to be holy priests and religious, willing to serve the church, with a mission to save souls.

“It is a difficult vocation, especially these days, and the prayers are critical.”

Zapor is senior correspondent for the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.