27 MAY 2010

We gather to celebrate this Mass for the repose of the soul of Fr. Joseph Campbell, former Parish Priest of Mullaghbawn Parish in County Armagh. Joe Campbell was ordained for the Archdiocese of Armagh after studies for the priesthood in the Irish College , Rome. For his first few years he ministered in the Diocese of Down and Connor and then as Chaplain to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda. His first appointment to parish work was in Knockbridge 1965-1969. He then ministered in Kilsaran for eight years, Clonoe for seven years, Ardtrea (Moneymore) for seven years until 1991, when he was appointed Parish Priest of Mullaghbawn, Co. Armagh, where he ministered for yet another period of seven years.  He was a priest of the Diocese for fifty-one years.  

My memories of Father Joe, as we called him, go back a long way. He was always the warm-hearted man with a broad smile and always a bit of banter.  He was one of that generation of priests trained in the Irish College, Rome who loved to go back there to revive memories of the past and relive the finer points of the education that formed him for ministry in Armagh. He loved the Italian way of life, the camaraderie of the past and the opportunity to be so close to the centre of Church life around Rome. At the drop of a hat he would wax eloquent about his tutors and educators and was known to break into an Italian song in the middle of a serious conversation. He enjoyed Rome and all of its associations.

In all of his ministry Joe was the conscientious priest, totally committed to his work. He is remembered fondly in every place where he served. I suppose the highlight of his work was the building of the new Church in Forkhill.  I remember the great joy on Sunday 4th May 1997 when the new Church of St Oliver Plunkett was opened on Forkhill. Fr Joe was like a man rejuvenated. Favours from the past were called in and anyone with appropriate expertise was called on to contribute their bit. It was all a dream come true. He would have liked to continue that work further but for some time he was beginning to show signs of ill-health. This progressed steadily until it began to impinge on his daily routine and on his mobility. Life became difficult. Retirement was inevitable. The past twelve years were testing. I think of the words of Scripture – “He was tested like gold in a furnace”

Indeed in recent years he was tested to the last but was always accepting and resigned.  There were repeated spells spent in hospital. At times he would have reached crisis point in his illness but the will was there to continue. September 2003 he was at crisis point in the Louth Hospital. Family and friend feared the worse until Cuthbert Donnelly, of Tyrone GAA fame, came to the hospital with the Sam Maguire Cup just clinched by the Tyrone team. Fr Joe sat up in the bed and posed for picture after picture with the coveted trophy. It was a moment that he treasured for the rest of his life. Over the following seven years there were many other crises but through it all Fr Joe was valiant to the last. I often think of him in those memorable words of Christ to St. Peter in St. John’s Gospel;

“When you were young
You put on your own belt and walked where you liked but when you grow old
You will stretch out your hands
And somebody else will put a belt around you
And take you where you would rather not go”.

Those words had a particular application to Fr. Joe in his recent years. Yet through it all he didn’t complain. He was heroic in suffering.

Today we pray that he may now share the joy of eternity with God in Heaven. Fr Joe was a devout man committed to his ministry. The words of the Gospel apply to all of his ministry.  He was true to his call “to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour”.  We pray that he may now received the reward for which he worked so faithfully.

May he rest in peace.