CLEMSON—Paulist Father Bernard J. Campbell is marking his golden jubilee as an ordained priest with what he likes to call his “victory lap.”
The New York native officially celebrates his 50th year in the priesthood on April 27, but in the lead-up to that special day, the soon-to-be 76-year-old is visiting the communities he once served. One of those is in the northwest corner of the diocese, where in September 1999 he was named pastor of what was then the tri-parish of St. Andrew’s in Clemson; St. Paul the Apostle in Seneca; and St. Francis Mission in Walhalla.
He served the three parishes until 2005, when the Paulists closed their campus ministry in Clemson.
A product of New York’s Bronx borough, Father Campbell recently called Franciscan Father Dan McClellan, the current pastor at St. Andrew, and asked if he could lead a Mass at the church.
“I told him I was celebrating my 50th anniversary and would like to come down,” Father Campbell said. “Dan was very, very gracious in accommodating me.” He was the celebrant at St. Andrew on Feb. 4, and was honored at a reception following the Mass.
Father Campbell has spent most of the past 50 years as a parish pastor and campus minister, with stops at the University of California–Berkeley, the University of Texas, MIT and Clemson, among others. He said this anniversary tour has reunited him with students who are now adults with families, plus older parishioners who helped him navigate challenges he knew little about.
“There was a lot of talent surrounding me over the years,” he said. “I never knew a thing about building a church building, but I had people who did — laity who were retired civil engineers, contractors and bank people.”
In addition to the Upstate, stops on Father Campbell’s list this year include trips to Portland, Oregon, and Cambridge, Mass., places he has not visited in many years. Before his stay at St. Andrew, he flew back to California to celebrate Mass at a Paulist parish serving students at Berkeley and the University of California–San Diego, where he renewed an acquaintance that stretched back to his time in Cambridge.
“There was a young family that came up to me after Mass,” he recalled. The father shook my hand and offered his thanks. Turns out, the young man was a student at MIT at the same time Father Campbell was campus minister there.
Father Campbell said the young man told him the campus ministry at MIT was his salvation.
“It can be a very impersonal place,” Father Campbell said, so for the nine years he was there “we would do things together in the community, do things to help others.
“It was the time in my life when I really was their father — the ‘parenting years’ of my life,” he said.
Father Campbell ranks his years at MIT at the top of his most-memorable times as a priest, memories that are repeatedly renewed. For example, later this year, he will preside at the wedding of a former student’s son. It is full circle, as he also married the parents shortly after the two graduated from MIT.
“It’s fun to reminisce,” Father Campbell said. “People remember things I never did and think of things that were significant to them, but went right past me at the time.”
Father Campbell now resides at the Paulist motherhouse in New York. For the past year he has traveled primarily in the Northeast, bringing to parishes a mission titled “Will Our Faith Have Children? A Mission for Renewal and Invitation.” It’s a subject that fits well with his preaching.
“As a Christian and as a Paulist priest, I have always been suspicious of churchy talk, preferring rather to reach out to the non-Catholic, non-religious in their language, to communicate as Paul did of the unfathomable riches of Christ.”
At age 76, Father Campbell said he doesn’t anticipate venturing far from the New York area once his Golden Jubilee celebration ends.
“In 50 years, I moved 17 times. Psychologically, that’s hard,” he said, but in the meantime the victory lap continues for someone whom, as a young man, was laughed at when he suggested joining the priesthood.
“In the winter of my sophomore year (in college at Holy Cross), I was starting to date a chemistry major from a nearby Catholic college,” Father Campbell said. “We were dancing and she asked me the big question, ‘What are you planning on doing after college?’”
The answer: “I’m thinking of becoming a priest.”
Father Campbell said his date “started laughing uncontrollably,” but fortunately for many other people he would ultimately inspire, the young Campbell wasn’t swayed.
“It dawned on me that being a Paulist was where my heart was leading me,” he said, citing a popular verse from Robert Frost: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I chose the one less travelled, and that has made all the difference.”