A legendary priest from Madison, Wisconsin has died — and he’s left behind a remarkable legacy:
For 43 years, Msgr. Thomas Campion was the face of the Catholic Church for thousands of shut-ins.
His televised Mass, broadcast Sundays at 7 a.m. on WISC-TV (Ch. 3) in Madison, brought comfort to the homebound and a degree of fame to Campion that he often sought to tamp down.
Campion, 79, was found dead Friday at his home in Monroe, where he was chaplain at Monroe Clinic Hospital. He also assisted at St. Victor Catholic Church in Monroe, where parishioners had gathered to hear him celebrate Mass early Friday when they learned of his death.
The cause was not immediately known, said Brent King, Madison Catholic Diocese spokesman. Friends said Campion had been struggling with cancer and other ailments.
Campion appeared to have been the oldest active priest in the diocese, King said. He certainly was among the hardest working.
“You could replace him with 20 people and it still wouldn’t be enough,” said parishioner Gabriella Breadon.
In 1967, Campion founded a special ministry for those with physical and mental handicaps called the Apostolate to the Handicapped. At the time of his death, he was finalizing plans for its annual Christmas gathering, which often drew 1,500 or more senior citizens and people with disabilities. A summer outing to the Wisconsin Dells involved similar numbers.
For years, Campion distributed free T-shirts to people who participated in the activities that read “Campion’s Champions.”
“He’d always say, ‘You can steal them, you can trade them, but you can’t buy them,'” said Steve Hawkinson of Monroe, whose autistic son, Jacob, 12, was among those who considered Campion a close friend.
Campion often spoke of his long-ago alcohol problem, a struggle he said gave him insight when creating the special ministry.
“He would often say that everyone has disabilities, some are just more open than others,” said Patrick Gorman, director of the diocesan office of worship.
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Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him…