||A statue honoring Msgr. Thomas Campion and Campion's Champions was recently dedicated at St. Victor Parish in Monroe. Pictured are, from left: sculptor Jerry McKenna, Bishop William H. Bullock, Monsignor Campion, Skip Brennan who donated the sculpture, and Fr. Michael Klarer, St. Victor Parish pastor. (Catholic Herald photo/Sue Klamer Barry) Click here for more photos of the dedication.
MONROE -- Recently the people of St. Victor Parish in Monroe, and many others around the diocese gathered for the unveiling and dedication of a statue recognizing Msgr. Thomas F. Campion, founder and director of the Apostolate to the Handicapped, and the many volunteers called “Campion’s Champions.”
The sculpture honoring Campion and his team of helpers was unveiled and blessed by Bishop William H. Bullock, bishop emeritus, in a ceremony in the courtyard of St. Victor Church.
The completed bronze sculpture was placed in the church courtyard in April, but remained covered up until this honorary day when its dedication could be shared with many who had a part in its story.
The statue was donated by St. Victor parishioner Skip Brennan as a gift to the community of Monroe and St. Victor Parish in honor and recognition for charitable works of the Apostolate to the Handicapped, “Campion’s Champions,” and dedication of its leader and founder, Monsignor Campion.
Part of parish life
The sculpture dedication was planned as part of St. Victor’s 150th anniversary because the statue represents an important part of the parish’s life for nearly 40 years.
Monsignor Campion brought the Apostolate to the Handicapped with him when he came to Monroe in 1971.
The Apostolate program includes a weekly Catholic Mass celebrated by Monsignor Campion and aired at 7 a.m. on Channel 3 each Sunday morning for 43 years.
The Apostolate also provides a Christmas dinner for the handicapped the first Saturday in December and a Wisconsin Dells outing in the summer, according to parishioner Mike Doyle.
“We feed about 1,000 people at a Christmas dinner held in the Monroe High School through the program,” Doyle said. “Monsignor Campion is very giving and he knows all the kids by their first names at the high school. Many of these kids, including many basketball and football players, help at these Apostolate activities, setting up chairs and getting the school ready,” he added.
The program has inspired some 40,000 volunteers and supporters over the generations and young and old alike can be found donning the various colored “Campion’s Champions” T-shirts.
Monsignor Campion said in a phone interview after the event, “the T-shirts have been a phenomenon. I was with some friends tonight who have a middle-school age son who is going on a trip to Washington. His mother said he is taking all Campion’s Champions shirts to wear there.”
The shirt, like the program, stands for something, he explained. “If you want to be fulfilled in life, serve others,” he said.
Pastor of the handicapped
Monsignor Campion also served as chaplain at St. Clare Hospital and the Monroe Clinic for many years as well as directing the Apostolate. Age 75 is usually retirement age for priests in the Diocese of Madison, but in 2006 when Campion turned 75 and the Apostolate to the Handicapped celebrated its 40th year, both Bishop Robert Morlino and WISC-TV decided to keep the program going because of all the good it was doing. Monsignor Campion also celebrates the 7 a.m. Mass on Sundays at St. Victor Church.
In Monsignor Campion’s comments to the attendees at the ceremony, he said, “I have always wanted to be a pastor, but I have never been a pastor of a church. I have, however, been a pastor to the beloved handicapped.”
With tears and emotion welling up, Campion thanked and expressed his love to each one of them and to all those who helped in that service. “I believe you each made me a better person . . . a better priest.”
Friends of the Apostolate
Bishop Bullock, who gave the homily at the dedication, said that in addition to the great founder of the Apostolate, Monsignor Campion, “we must also call to mind the many people who help, called ‘Friends of the Apostolate,’ that group of priests, deacons, religious, young men and women who serve around Monsignor Campion, the persons, all volunteers who work to preserve the rights of the handicapped.
“It is in their name that we gather today to place this sculpture of Msgr. Thomas Campion. It will serve as a reminder to all who see it that Monsignor Campion, founder of the Apostolate under the auspices of the Diocese of Madison, stands in support and help for these special people in God’s Kingdom,” he said.
It was especially important to Monsignor Campion that the statue, from its conception to its dedication, not be about him, but rather about the handicapped he serves through the Apostolate and all the Friends of the Apostolate.
Monsignor Campion told the audience that when Skip Brennan first approached him with the idea of commissioning the artwork, “I went to talk to him and adamantly let him know I did not want the statue. I learned later, that right after our conversation, he called Mike Doyle and said, ‘he’s all for it.’ Dealing with Skip is like dealing with a bronze statue,” he quipped. The Irish are bullheaded, he added.
Monsignor Campion, 79, continued with his fun-loving humor, “Yes, there’s a statue, but it’s not about Campion. It is about continuity . . . the strong must take care of the weak or the strong too will fall. The statue is a symbol of the work of service to the disabled — Campion’s Champions. This day is about love.”