Award-winning priest has local ties - Catholic Courier

Award-winning priest has local ties

President George W. Bush presented Father Joseph Champlin, a Hammondsport native and priest of the Diocese of Syracuse, with the President’s Volunteer Service Award March 14 at the Greater Rochester International Airport.

Bush, who was in the area to promote the new Medicare Part D prescription-drug plan, gave Father Champlin the award shortly after disembarking from Air Force One.

The President’s Volunteer Service Award is given to individuals, families and groups that have demonstrated outstanding volunteer service and civic participation. Since 2002 Bush has met with and given the award to more than 475 individuals around the country who have made a difference in the lives of others.

Father Champlin was honored for his work with the Cathedral School in Syracuse. In 1997 he founded a nonprofit organization called the Guardian Angel Society to benefit the elementary school, and the society has since grown to include 2,500 members.

“The school has about 100 kids, most of whom are African-American, most are not Catholic and most are below the poverty level,” said Father Champlin, who attended St. Andrew’s and St. Bernard’s seminaries in Rochester.

The society has three main goals, Father Champlin said. The first is to enable students from low-income families to attend the school, the second is to enhance the technology at the school, and the third is to provide financial assistance to Cathedral School graduates who wish to attend Catholic high schools.

Members of the Guardian Angel Society hold five annual fundraisers that raise a total of about $200,000 for the school, he said. A number of society members also sponsor students for $2,000 or $3,000 a year, while other members serve as mentors for the students and visit them in class each week, Father Champlin said.

The efforts of Guardian Angel Society members have helped Cathedral School students realize how much the rest of the community cares about them.

“It’s really had a wonderful impact. We have a great environment in the school where they feel safe, secure, cared for and good. It gives them hope,” Father Champlin said.

Father Champlin said he didn’t find out he was receiving the presidential award until a few days before the president’s arrival.

“It’s an honor for me, but it’s more an honor for the 2,500 members of the society who support it,” he noted.

The award also recognizes the society’s executive director and the school’s teachers, students and graduates.

“It’s really for them,” he added.

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