The first Road for Hope group poses for a photo in 1999 at a church. Seamus Griesbach is kneeling with a water bottle in his hand. Submitted photo

LEWISTON — Twenty-four years ago, in the summer of 1998, a Lisbon Falls resident decided to do something different on his commute to his first year of college in New Hampshire.

Deciding that a three-day bike ride to campus was too short, Seamus Griesbach decided to walk the 130 miles to Saint Anselm College in Manchester.

He brought up the idea to his parents, and jokingly asked if his little brother could go with him, and they said yes. The brothers began planning their route and within a few days they were off.

“My brother and I (and the family’s dog, Belle) set off with 2 gallons of dog food, a tent, two sleeping bags, two hiking backpacks, a Maine and New Hampshire atlas, and a bunch of granola,” Griesbach said.

While on the road they mapped out about 20 miles a day and wrote an X where they planned to stay the night. Most days ended with the two walking door to door, and asking residents if they could set up camp in their front lawn.

“We got questioned by the police a few times,” Griesbach chuckled. “They thought we were runways. A few people thought we were homeless, so they brought us some sandwiches to eat.”


Seamus, his 13-year-old brother, Leon, and Belle made it to their destination seven days later, not yet realizing the significance of their effort. In fact, Griesbach wasn’t quite sure why he made the trek at all.

“I don’t know what my reasoning was,” he said. “I don’t know why I thought it would be a good idea to walk to campus, I just wanted to do something different.” 

Griesbach said it wasn’t until a month into school, when he started to become known as “the guy who walked here,” that he started to realize his voyage had captured the imagination of others.

“Next thing I knew, word got out to the administration, then The Union Leader (Manchester’s local newspaper), then The Associated Press got a hold of it,” Griesbach said. “I can still see the headline: ‘You think you had a tough commute? Local college student walks 130 miles to campus.'”

Eventually, other students began to approach him on campus and ask if he planned to do the walk again. “Instead of just doing it as a walk, I thought it’d be a good idea to find some local charities along the way, that we can raise money for,” Griesbach said.

He repeated the walk the next year as one of 36 students, naming their endeavor Road for Hope and raising over $18,000 for local charities along the beaten path.


Seamus Griesbach sits on the side of the road to take a break and plan his route in 1999, the second year he walked from Lisbon Falls to Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. Submitted photo

Some of the nonprofits that students continue to raise money for include Community Concepts in Lewiston, Good Shepherd Food Bank in Auburn, and the Candia drug awareness program in New Hampshire.

The walk was so popular it has become a cherished college tradition — so popular that a limit had to be set on the number of participants. “I’m not even sure they’d let me do it if I applied,” said Griesbach, who walked all four years he attended Saint Anselm’s.

A group of six students at the college organize the walk each year to ensure it meets the college’s standards. That includes a little more planning than Griesbach did on his original walk, using connections with people, churches and nonprofits to house the students along the route.

Saint Anselm College students will again gather outside Lewiston’s Saints Peter and Paul Basilica on Saturday morning to set off on their walk. The basilica was chosen as the starting point by Griesbach.

“The Lewiston Basilica is already a very popular pilgrimage location, so it just made sense to start there,” he said.

Mike Holzman, one of the six student organizers on the Road for Hope Committee, explained the mission of the effort: “Road for Hope is based on the idea that by simply walking through the countryside we can change the world for the better. The Road for Hope seeks to provide funds for the needy, strengthen the bonds in our communities, and rekindle the belief that every footstep makes a difference.”


“In a time when most of us are speeding through life, the Road for Hope speaks to the value and joy of a slow walk,” Holzman said. “It is in this spirit that the students and staff of Saint Anselm College, and many others along the way, unite to walk a Road for Hope,” he said.

Benedictine monks continue to work and teach at Saint Anselm College, in the process sharing their values of hospitality, stability, work, care and learning with the students.

“The essence of the walk is rooted in the Benedictine values that Saint Anselm College was built on,” Holzman said. “The Road for Hope has positively impacted thousands of people since its founding.”

He added, “I am walking Road for Hope for multiple reasons. Some are to give back to surrounding communities, form new bonds with my peers, and remove myself from the monotony of daily life.”

The Rev. Seamus Griesbach is now a priest with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. Submitted photo

Griesbach, now a priest with the Diocese of Portland, still likes to follow the news of the walk each year, visiting the students while they walk the same path he did years ago.

“I guess, for me, more than anything I saw it tapped into something that’s very basic in the human person,” he said. “I didn’t think it’d do that. I think it provided an experience for students to learn and grow, and step out of their comfort zone. I think that is why it’s become such a long-lasting tradition.”

Leaving for college is a very daunting experience for a lot of people, Griesbach said, leaving family and friends to begin the process of becoming an adult. “Getting ready to leave for your first year of college is a little scary sometimes, and being able to put that fear aside and just focus on putting one foot in front of the other, it’s really peaceful.”

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