Remembering Monsignor Campion: His ‘parishioners’ will carry on his legacy Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler, editor   
Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010 -- 1:00 AM

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It brought tears to my eyes the first time I saw it. And I probably had to rub my eyes on subsequent times. It always amazed me.

What I’m talking about is the Offertory procession at the Christmas and Easter Masses for the handicapped held for many years at Monroe High School. What happens is about two dozen young men — many of them large football and basketball players — each come up paired with a disabled or elderly person.

Campion’s Champions

The young men carefully hold the arm of a disabled person or push the wheelchair of an elderly person as they carry up the gifts in the Offertory procession. This scene has been repeated over and over at days sponsored by the Apostolate to the Handicapped of the Diocese of Madison for the past 43 years.

And standing in the back supervising has always been Msgr. Thomas Campion, known fondly as “TC” to his many friends of all ages. Monsignor Campion made sure everything was running smoothly.

He was always there to greet the many disabled and elderly people and to encourage the dozens of volunteers. Many of those volunteers were the young people he inspired to volunteer service, those known as “Campion’s Champions.”

Handicapped himself

Monsignor Campion was a fairly young priest himself at 35 years of age when Bishop Cletus F. O’Donnell asked him to start the Apostolate to the Handicapped in the Diocese of Madison. Bishop O’Donnell brought the idea from Chicago. Perhaps one of the reasons Bishop O’Donnell picked Father Campion for the job was that the priest was handicapped himself. He was an alcoholic, a disease he battled all his life.

Father Campion had just completed alcohol treatment in 1967 when the bishop approached him about the new apostolate. The bishop told him, “If you do this right, it’ll be the best thing the diocese has going.”

Father Campion proved him right. The priest encouraged young people and volunteers of all ages to become involved in the program. It took hundreds of people to decorate, prepare and serve meals, care for the guests at the events, and provide transportation for the disabled and elderly.

The weekly television Mass on WISC-TV, Channel 3, began on December 3, 1967. The Mass has run continuously ever since. Monsignor Campion himself celebrated many of the Masses, with guest priests assisting. He was still celebrating the Mass up until his death, although having to use a portable oxygen tank.

Pastor without a parish

Although he was never pastor of a parish, the disabled, elderly, and young people of the diocese were his parish, noted long-time apostolate volunteer Bill Cross of Madison. He was also an unofficial chaplain to the sports teams at Monroe High School. He went to all the sporting events for boys and girls to cheer them on to victory or console them in defeat. Kids appreciate his keen sense of humor.

In an interview on the 25th anniversary of the Apostolate to the Handicapped in 1992, Monsignor Campion told me that the handicapped were practically “invisible” in society when he started working with the program. The apostolate, he said, helped bring them into public consciousness and provide necessary services.

Besides the days for the handicapped, the apostolate publishes a newsletter and provides prayer books. It also loans wheelchairs and walkers to those who need them.

Above all, Monsignor Campion said that the disabled are “an important part of the human family.” As their pastor, he tried to show them that they are “not alone” and that they are “part of something bigger.”

His legacy will live on in all the Campions Champions who will continue his work. God speed, TC. We will miss you!