Editor's note: This column originally appeared online Nov. 26, 2010.
Nov. 12, 2010 was one of the toughest days of my life. Not because the football season was closing in on the state semifinals, or because our newspaper's winter sports preview deadline was days away, but because one of my idols left us all forever.
Monsignor Thomas Campion, commonly known in Monroe as T.C., was a priest who worked as a pastor for St. Victor's Church, chaplain at the hospital, and leader of the Apostolate to the Handicapped. But he also was our friend and a mentor.
T.C. could grab the room's attention just by walking through the door with his trademark smile.
His handshake was more than firm - I thought he had broken my right hand on more than one occasion. T.C. didn't command respect from those around him, he earned it.
Growing up in Monroe since my birth in 1985, there was never a year in my life that Monsignor's influence wasn't there. His work with the Apostolate is well documented, and his Campions Champions T-shirts have traveled around the world.
Growing up, one of the best things each spring was to get a new T-shirt after the 5K race at The Junction House on County J. Then, I couldn't wait until high school to put on a robe and carry a candle in the winter and spring Apostolate dinners. T-shirts, of course, followed.
Specialty T-shirts also came for football, basketball, baseball, tennis, prom and pretty much anything else. You could not walk the halls of Monroe High School over the last 15 to 20 years without seeing hundreds of Apostolate logos on clothes.
My German-exchange partner from high school, Alexander Bitzenberger, cherished his time in America with T.C. They had an instant bond, one that arose because both lost their fathers at a young age. Father Tom even made shirts just for Alex and me - orange, long-sleeved, with an image on the back of North America and Europe and a plane flying from Monroe to Kastl, Germany.
When I traveled overseas, I brought with me several Campions Champions shirts for Alex's friends. To this day, I still have dozens of shirts in my possession, and that number had to be inching close to 100 when I was still in high school just seven years ago. And I wasn't the only one.
We didn't wear those shirts just because they were fashionable and free; we wore them because of what they stood for - belonging, respect and T.C.
Those were the teachings of TC that I remember the most - not Scripture. Monsignor found a way to connect with nearly every youth in our community and beyond. If you were disabled, he wanted to help you. If you were abled, he'd sit and talk about life and tell you how you could help. If you were shirtless, he'd clothe you. He was a modern day Jesus with a Cadillac. He had a sense of humor and wasn't afraid to use profane language when the right moment struck.
In fact, Father Tom helped me grow to be who I am today. My Grandpa Stietz passed away before I was born and my Grandpa Krebs died when I was 7. Not long after that I started to get to know T.C., and without him knowing it, he took over that grandfatherly role for me. As our relationship grew, it became less and less about religion. Our bond grew deeper because we enjoyed each other's personalities and humor. We talked politics. We talked family. We talked sports and life.
He came over to our house for many dinners, including Thanksgiving, Christmas and some Easter dinners which made the holiday meal taste that much better. In return, we shared cookies that he said he always cherished.
In the waning days before I left home for college, I stopped at his house and he and I talked for nearly four hours. His advice to me was to remember that no matter what happened, there were people in this town who cared about me - and not just my family. He is the primary reason for me becoming very civil-rights oriented. His message to me was that no matter what - whether you were disabled or abled, rich or poor, young or old, black or white, single, married, widowed, orphaned or part of a colony-sized family, religious or not - everyone belongs. Everyone deserves respect and help. In his eyes, we were all one family and we need to care for one another.
Today, we as a family in Monroe, Green County, southern Wisconsin and the world, have lost someone very special. His memory may fade over time, but his legacy and meaning will survive.
He was our saint. He was our hero. He was our friend, our grandfather and our brother. He was our Father Tom.
Rest peacefully, 1TC - your work here is done.
- Adam Krebs is the Monroe Times sports editor and can be reached at 328-4202 ext. 33 or at email@example.com