||After Mass, Msgr. Thomas F. Campion, director of the Apostolate to the Handicapped, and his “poster boys” Scott Peters of Chicago, Ill., right, and Jacob Hawkinson of Monroe, left, pose for a photo with the plaque presented to Campion by Tom Diehl, Tommy Bartlett show president. (Catholic Herald photo/Sue Klamer Barry) Click here for more photos of the Day in the Dells.
WISCONSIN DELLS -- The Apostolate to the Handicapped held its annual “Day in the Dells” on August 20 on the beautiful Tommy Bartlett grounds, where Mass was celebrated with many priests from the diocese participating, and which included a both humorous and touching homily by program icon Msgr. Thomas F. Campion. A picnic lunch was served between the Mass and the water ski show.
Prior to Mass, Tom Diehl, owner of Tommy Bartlett, presented Monsignor Campion with a plaque of commemoration for all the years of service to the Apostolate to the Handicapped and a special “thank you” for all the years he has brought the Apostolate Dells event to the Tommy Bartlett Water Ski Show. This is the 44th year that Monsignor Campion has brought his beloved handicapped and elderly participants to the Dells to enjoy a day of Christian fellowship and entertainment free of charge with their caretakers and families. Thirty-five of those years the Apostolate has been coming to Tommy Bartlett Water Ski Show.
Diehl read the plaque, which in part stated, “You have touched our souls and taught us to unlock the power and potential within all of us. For the past 44 years, it has been our privilege and honor to be a small part of your miracle of love and compassion. Thank you for all the examples of faith, courage, perseverance, ability to overcome obstacles, to smile through pain and fear, and to accept life as it is. We will not forget.”
The two major events held by the Apostolate to the Handicapped each year include the Christmas dinner put on in Monroe each December and the Dells outing held in August. It is estimated that between 1,200 and 1,400 participants are served at each event and the volunteers who have helped with the programs over the years have topped 40,000, according to program coordinators.
This year’s Dells event brought in just over 1,000 attendees and about 125 volunteers in addition to the Tommy Bartlett (orange shirt) volunteers, according to Ellen Marti, Apostolate to the Handicapped secretary.
“It was a great day,” she said, “A little warm, but we did not have to deal with rain.”
Priests in attendance who concelebrated Mass with main celebrant Fr. Kevin Dooley of St. Paul Parish in Evansville and St. Augustine Parish in Footville were:
- Monsignor Campion;
- Msgr. Michael Burke, pastor of St. Maria Goretti Parish, Madison;
- Fr. Robert Butz, pastor of St. Olaf Parish, De Forest, and St. Joseph Parish, East Bristol;
- Msgr. James Gunn, pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish, Waunakee;
- Msgr. Gerard Healy, pastor of St. Ann Parish, Stoughton;
- Fr. Michael Klarer, pastor of St. Victor Parish, Monroe, and St. Rose of Lima Parish, Brodhead;
- Msgr. Duane Moellenberndt, pastor of Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Parish, Sun Prairie;
- Fr. Eric Nielsen, co-pastor of St. Paul’s University Catholic Center, Madison;
- Fr. Monte Robinson, pastor of St. Philomena in Belmont, St. Michael Parish in Calamine, and Immaculate Conception Parish in Truman;
- Fr. Kent Schmitt, pastor of St. Dennis Parish, Madison;
- Msgr. James Uppena, pastor of St. Mary Parish, Milton;
- Fr. Gary Wankerl, pastor of Holy Mother of Consolation Parish, Oregon;
- Fr. David Carrano, parochial vicar of St. Maria Goretti Parish, Madison;
- Fr. Roger Nilles, pastor emeritus;
- Fr. James McEnery, pastor emeritus;
- and Deacon Ron Pickar from Sacred Heart Parish in Reedsburg.
‘Life is change’
In Monsignor Campion’s homily, he told of an experience back in his seminarian college days. “When I was a student I had a biology teacher, who was also a priest, Fr. Wally Dunsvall. He was more a biology teacher than a priest,” he explained with a twinkle. The teacher was very strict about homework and often he gave lengthy reading assignments and then a pop quiz the following day on the material we were supposed to read, Monsignor Campion continued.
“One particular day, I had been very busy with other things and for some reason didn’t get the assigned reading done. The next day, as usual, we had a pop quiz,” Monsignor Campion said. “The reading was about Darwin’s theory, and the pop quiz was a fill in the dash: Life is . . . Not knowing the answer, I wrote ‘life is what you make it,’” he said, showing the wittiness he displayed even back then.
“The next day in class, the teacher roared at me when he was handing back the quizzes, ‘Campion you’re out of here. We don’t have room for comedians,’” Monsignor Campion said. He was kicked out of class for three days. He added that from that lesson, he learned that Darwin’s theory is summarized as “Life is change.”
On a more serious note, he said, “Life is change for all of us and there is not much we can do about it. We get older and can’t do anything about it. Change is taking up our challenges in life and especially for the handicapped,” he said. “It is especially hard for those who face those challenges, yet they do so with vitality and courage and hope. Through the struggles and difficulties we grow, we serve, and most important we keep going.”
He continued, “There was once a priest from Belgium, Father Damien (now St. Damien), who went to Hawaii to preach to lepers living there. When he first went to live among them, he addressed them as ‘Dear Lepers.’”
Father Damien stayed with them and shared his faith with them and helped them. They were the most abandoned and rejected humans of society, sent out to the deserted island of Molokai. After he lived among them for awhile, Father Damien contracted leprosy himself, Monsignor Campion explained. “Then, Father Damien began to address them, ‘Dear Fellow Lepers.’”
In the same spirit, Monsignor Campion said, “I am thrilled to stand before you and say ‘my dear fellow handicapped.’ You make me who I am today. The change will happen when I leave this earth. I don’t think God will turn his back on his beloved handicapped. Life is change, and I want to encourage you today to keep going — don’t quit.”
Monsignor Campion, as always, was speaking not only to his fellow handicapped participants in the audience, but also to the many volunteers and friends and family members who give of their time to make not only these special events for the handicapped possible, but also who are there to serve them, care for them, and make their journeys a little easier. Monsignor Campion, who has directed the Apostolate to the Handicapped program for over 44 years, and has said Mass over the airways to countless numbers of people for the same number of years, concluded saying, “being associated with you my fellow handicapped has been the love of my life and I thank you and love you all.”
Campion’s Champions and orange shirts
The work behind the scenes before the Apostolate to the Handicapped “Dells Day” ever began was very evident in how smoothly things went. The day was beautiful and sunny despite weather predictions of possible storms. But as Monsignor Campion said in his opening remarks, “Today is not about the weather, it is about people.”
Every detail was orchestrated with compassion, enthusiasm, and lots of smiling faces. From those organizing and directing traffic to those hundreds of volunteers who made the approximately 1,000 brown bag lunches, delivered them to all the attendees, and kept everyone in supply of water and soda. Tommy Bartlett employees and their families, known by their orange shirts, worked right alongside the Campion Champions who also dedicate their time and talent to get all the handicapped and elderly attendees served and cared for at an event like this.
Not only do people attend the event from all over, from as far as Chicago and Minnesota, but volunteers come from all around the state. Probably the largest number of attendees and helpers are from the Monroe area because that is where Monsignor Campion and the Apostolate program are located, but people come from almost every city around the diocese. Their stories and their disabilities are varied, but the common thread among them all is a great love for people and a servant attitude and an obvious love and respect for Monsignor Campion.
On October 31, 1967, Bishop Cletus O’Donnell appointed Fr. Thomas Campion to start some kind of a program and work “for the handicapped.” At the time, Father Campion was associate pastor of St. James Parish, Madison; diocesan director of the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO); and chaplain of Madison General Hospital. It is a lasting tribute to the generosity of the Morgan-Burns family and the entire staff and management of WISC-TV, both past and present, that the television Mass continues to air every Sunday morning at 7 a.m.
In 1971, Father Campion was transferred to be chaplain at St. Clare Hospital in Monroe, and with the good foundation that had been established at St. James in Madison, the Apostolate to the Handicapped also moved to Monroe.
The Apostolate to the Handicapped was and is currently funded totally on volunteer contributions as a living testimony of the charity of people who show they really care.