Many Elmira Catholics may be surprised — and will most certainly be proud — to learn that the newly named Bishop of Columbus, Ohio, hails from their city.
Bishop Frederick F. Campbell, 61, was announced Oct. 14 as Pope John Paul II’s successor to retiring Columbus Bishop James A. Griffin. Bishop Campbell is currently an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, as well as rector and vice president of the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity. He is expected to be installed as head of the Columbus Diocese in early January.
Bishop Campbell lived in Elmira until his college years. Born Aug. 5, 1943, he is the son of Edward and Dorothy Campbell and one of six children. He was baptized, received first Communion and was confirmed at Elmira’s St. Casimir Parish. When told that the St. Casimir/St. Charles Borromeo office staff had located documents listing his sacraments, Bishop Campbell said with a laugh, “I’m glad to hear they still have my records.”
“I remember St. Casimir very fondly,” Bishop Campbell added in a telephone interview. “They had such a strong devotion there to the Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin. I still remember some of the Polish hymns.” Bishop Campbell’s Polish heritage comes from his mother, whose maiden name was Wisniewski.
However, he was not deeply involved in parish life because his father was baptized a Presbyterian and later joined the Evangelical and Reformed Church. “That was a different time,” he explained, saying that the marriage of his Catholic mother to a non-Catholic was not accepted by all. Nonetheless, he said, “I grew up in a very religious family.”
Bishop Campbell attended public schools in Elmira, graduating from Southside High School. In his teen years his family attended St. Cecilia’s Parish and later St. Mary’s Southside. He has especially fond memories of the late Father Thomas J. Manley, pastor of St. Cecilia’s from 1955-59.
“He was just a splendid priest, a great influence,” Bishop Campbell said. He recalled being among a group of youths that Father Manley brought to the former St. Andrew’s Seminary in Rochester, just in case a few vocations were lurking. That held true for Bishop Campbell, although he didn’t pursue his priestly vocation until several years later.
Bishop Campbell has not been back to Elmira since his father’s funeral 13 years ago, and said that most of his family and childhood friends have moved away. Still, he retains good memories of the area: “I love the beauty of upstate New York,” he said.
He received his bachelor’s degree from St. Lawrence University and his master’s and doctorate from Ohio State University. He was a professor of ancient history at Pontifical College Josephinum in Worthington, Ohio, from 1967-69, then at California State College in San Bernardino from 1970-76.
Bishop Campbell credits two main influences in his decision to pursue the priesthood: a group of encouraging Mexican nuns whom he met in California, and Father Bartholomew O’Brien, pastor of St. Mary Our Mother Parish in Horseheads, where his family had moved in 1968. Father O’Brien, who died in November 2003, led St. Mary Our Mother from 1965-84.
“I got to know him quite well — a wonderful, wonderful priest,” Bishop Campbell said.
Bishop Campbell began attending Minnesota’s St. Paul Seminary in 1976. Four years later, at the age of 36, he was ordained a priest of the St. Paul/Minneapolis Archdiocese. His brother, Father Theodore Campbell, is also an archdiocesan priest, serving as pastor of Good Shepherd Parish in Golden Valley. The siblings’ mother currently lives in the Twin Cities area as well.
Following ordination, Bishop Campbell served as an associate pastor at St. Charles Borromeo in Minneapolis from 1980-87, and was then pastor at St. John the Evangelist in Hopkins from 1987-94 and St. Joseph in West St. Paul from 1994-99.
He was made an auxiliary bishop five years ago by St. Paul/Minneapolis Archbishop Harry J. Flynn. Auxiliary bishops are appointed to help a bishop or archbishop carry out his functions, particularly in larger dioceses or archdioceses. The Diocese of Rochester’s most recent auxiliary bishop was Bishop Dennis W. Hickey, who served in that role from 1968 until his death in 1999.
In 2002 Bishop Campbell was appointed rector/vice president of St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity. He was due this month to become chair of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on the Diaconate.
“As a priest, seminary rector and bishop, Bishop Campbell has served our archdiocese uncommonly well,” said Archbishop Flynn in a statement on Bishop Campbell’s appointment to the Columbus Diocese.
Despite these credentials, Bishop Campbell said he was unprepared for the call he recently received from Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, papal nuncio — the Vatican representative to the United States — informing him that Pope John Paul had designated him Bishop of Columbus. His reaction?
“Well, astonishment,” Bishop Campbell chuckled.
Now he looks forward to returning to an area where he spent several years of his early adulthood. “The head has stopped spinning. I’m excited about it, a new turn of events,” said Bishop Campbell, who noted that the Columbus Diocese is made up of approximately 250,000 Catholics.
All in all, it’s been a remarkable journey for this Elmira native, who didn’t become a priest until his mid-30s and has now been deemed worthy of leading a diocese.
“I don’t know (why), except that I love the priesthood,” Bishop Campbell said. As for any other reasons, he quipped, “I think you’d have to call the Holy Father.”