By Amy Korpi
What does a Jesuit provincial have in common with a former Wisconsin governor, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, an Emmy-nominated comedian, a former president of Mexico, and a groundbreaking physician?
All attended Campion High School in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. Those mentioned above are Midwest Jesuits provincial, Fr. Brian Paulson, SJ; Governor Patrick Lucey; Garry Wills(author of Lincoln at Gettysburg); George Wendt (best known as “Norm” on the sitcom Cheers); President Vicente Fox; and James West, MD (who served on the team that performed the world’s first human organ transplant and became a pioneer in addiction treatment).
Following in the footsteps of his father and older brother, Fr. Paulson enrolled at Campion. “Some people think of being sent to boarding school as a punishment, but we thought of it as a treat, a privilege really,” he recalls. “The Jesuits there were great role models. They seemed very happy and enjoyed each other’s company, and they could speak with familiarity about God. As a result of their influence and the overall experience, the Society of Jesus has formed my mind, heart, and spirit since I was a student at Campion.”
Today, Fr. Paulson’s Campion connections are still present. Two Jesuits he met there, Fr. Daniel McDonald and Fr. Albert DiUlio, are on his provincial staff.
He also has many good memories.
“A highlight of my sophomore year was participating with some senior guys who were friends of my older brother Marty in a band we called Open Road, “he says. “One of the leaders was Tony Altimari, who is now an accomplished surgeon in Wheaton, Illinois. My role was on keyboards. We played songs like ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet’ (Bachman-Turner Overdrive), ‘Color My World’(Chicago), ‘Brown Sugar’ (The Rolling Stones), ‘Stairway to Heaven’ (Led Zeppelin), and many more. Scholastic Roc O’Connor, SJ, was one of our ‘roadies’ (aka chaperones!) when we played at a bar in downtown Prairie du Chien. Who gets to do that when you are 15 years old? The 1970s were a different period and place. Good times.”
WELLSPRING OF VOCATIONS
As noted by Fr. Paulson, extracurricular activities were a prominent feature in Campion life. In addition to high academic standards, the school was “known and noted” for “religious dedication, dramatics, musical excellence, and athletic prowess,” wrote Br. Sylvester Staber, SJ, in his essay, “A Short History of Campion High School.” Campion was also renowned for its exceptional science program.
It all started in 1880, when the Jesuits founded the College of the Sacred Heart as a post-secondary institution open to the public. From 1888 to 1898, it became a Jesuit house of formation, until the doors opened again to the public as a high school and college. By 1913, the school’s name had changed to Campion College of the Sacred Heart, taking Blessed(now Saint) Edmund Campion, SJ, as its patron. When, in 1925, its college division closed, Campion High School assumed the name it would have for the next 50 years.
According to Br. Staber, Campion fostered a total of 472 vocations to religious life, including diocesan clergy, members of various religious congregations, and, of course, Jesuit priests and brothers.
Along with his brother (Fr. John Eagan, SJ), Fr. Joseph Eagan, SJ, heard the call to join the Jesuits there, and wrote, “I shall always cherish those never-to-be forgotten Campion years. They were four of the greatest years of my life.” As for his vocation, he said, “Basically it was the scholastics teaching at Campion who influenced me. Their example of joy as Jesuits and the fun we had on sports teams playing against them made them people we really looked up to. During our three-day Holy Week retreats from our sophomore year on, I felt God wanted me to be Jesuit.”
Later, Fr. Joseph Eagan said he thoroughly enjoyed teaching at his alma mater: “Those years are full of so many faces and such happy memories, including taking students on a European tour—the highlight of which was attending the coronation of Pope Paul VI.”
Some students were sent to Campion because they weren’t doing well academically. It might surprise Marquette University grads who remember their freshman history class to learn that Fr. John Patrick Donnelly, SJ, was one of those students.
“I did a lot of reading as a boy, but I was not a good student,” Fr. Donnelly wrote.“[My] mother claimed that I did so badly on a high school entrance exam that I would not be admitted to Riverside High School. Something had to be done.”
By the time he was a senior at Campion, however, the young Donnelly competed with 100 others for a scholarship in Chicago. He ranked second, won a four-year full scholarship, and credited his achievement in part to several daily compulsory study hall periods: “I probably needed the discipline. [And the] Jesuit teachers were generally good and caring, and my early success sharpened my desire to learn.”
“My years at Campion gave me growing confidence in my academic abilities and deepened my religious faith,” Fr. Donnelly reflected.
Campion was also a well spring of vocations and a vocation for laypeople dedicated to the work of the Jesuits and lives lived in the Ignatian tradition. It inspired great loyalty as well. A dedicated group of graduates have kept in touch via reunions and a newsletter at CampionForever.org, today under the care of alumnus Tom Olson.
In a recent edition, Jack (aka “Beaky”) Downes wrote, “I think my years at Campion prepared me for a full, rewarding, and useful life, and for that I shall always be grateful to my parents(for their sacrifices to send me there) and to the many Jesuits who helped form and enrich my life. A.M.D.G.”
Martin Saw a reflected, “The Jebbies taught me how to write and how to think and helped shape my future. I regard my class…as one of the last cohorts to benefit from a classical liberal education, something I appreciate more and more as I try to make sense of the world around me.”
LAST DAYS AND LEGACY
As the saying goes, good things do come to an end. When Campion closed in 1975, Fr. Gregory Lucey, SJ (brother of Governor Lucey), the high school’s president and rector of its Jesuit community, wrote the following:
The institutions of man are finite…. We must realize, as one alumnus wrote, “that in the decision to conclude lies the responsibility to continue. From one accomplished task can come the knowledge to begin another, a different role and perhaps with greater purpose.
“It is not by default that we close; it is after having made a concerted effort at every level. It is … with peace that we live with this decision, knowing it was right and necessary, made with dignity and integrity. Anything less would be out of step with the tradition we have ended and the tradition we continue to live as we scatter to begin anew.
The Campion tradition is in fact still alive and well, not only in its graduates, but also in a “new Campion” halfway around the world, with which several “old Campion” alumni have been intricately involved.
Father Tony Wach, SJ, first went to East Africa in 1991, when the province there was looking for volunteers. Eventually, while serving as superior in Kampala, Uganda, he became immersed (along withFr. Jim Strzok, SJ—also a grad of the original Campion) in starting a school, which would come to be known as Ocer Campion Jesuit College.
“I was willing to get involved because I had the experience of an excellent Jesuit school,” said Fr. Wach. “I was committed that we should have poor kids who are bright and wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity. The challenge was to get the right culture at Ocer—the right standards and tradition, something that will last 100years.” Ocer means “he is risen” in the Acholi language.
Father Wach found a unique source of fundraising prospects in original Campion alums.
For example, when Dr. David Zamierowski, MD, wasa student, he got to know the future Fr. Wach very well. “During the time we were at Campion, the Jesuits were very structured,” Zamierowski explained. “They assigned seating in classes alphabetically. We—as ‘W’ and ‘Z’—were bench mates in every class for four years.”
So, when Fr. Wach shared his dreams for this new ministry, Zamierowski and his wife, Mary, wanted to help. “One motivational factor is nostalgia for the wonderful time Campion provided; another is the desire to leave a legacy,” he said.
With that, a group of alumni launched the “New Campion Campaign” to support the building of a Jesuit educational complex in the war-torn region of Gulu in northern Uganda. The school opened in 2010 and is run by the Eastern Africa Province of the Society of Jesus in concert with community members, other religious groups, and government officials. Today it serves 364 girls and 373 boys, now growing at approximately 90 students per year.