The Unique Role of the Catholic School Chaplain
For Father Joe Campbell, Each Day is Filled With Opportunity. Here’s How He Makes the Most of Each One.
“I feel like a lot of my job is to encourage people.”
For many people, memories of high school include both high highs and low lows, punctuated by learning and friendship.
At Lansing Catholic High School (LCHS), today’s students aren’t immune to the daily troubles of adolescence. Their educators, too, have their own burdens to carry as they strive to deliver the very best growth experiences amid a changing world.
Fortunately, Lansing Catholic has Father Joe Campbell to help them along the way.
As a Catholic school chaplain, Father Joe’s responsibilities are far different than those of a typical parish priest.
“In a parish, the priests are — for better or for worse — in charge of the whole operation. But here at the high school, the chaplain is not in charge. We have a president and administrative team that really run the school,” Father Joe says. “I'm here and I'm part of the leadership team, but my focus is, first of all, the liturgy and sacraments.”
It’s a role Father Joe takes seriously. It’s also one he extends into life outside the school’s chapel.
“I also try to be a listening ear, if a student or staff member wants to just talk through some things,” he says. “It’s my role to be a spiritual guide through those things as well, and to pray with people.”
While he focuses on faith formation, Father Joe is realistic about the amount of time he has to make an impact on the spiritual growth of LCHS students.
“Students are here for four years, tops, and then they're gone. And a lot of these kids, you might never see them again,” Father Joe says. “Whereas at the parish, if you have a family that's really connected to a place, they might have been there for 30 or 40 years and their kids might still be there, and their grandkids. There's this much longer-term relationship that develops.”
That said, there are upsides on campus.
“The good news is I have a captive audience five days a week for eight hours a day,” Father Joe smiles. “At a parish, I’d get them at the most on Sundays for an hour, plus the odd extra event. But the actual time I have with the students? It's much more focused, condensed and concentrated.”
Although Father Joe says he was prepared well for his work at Lansing Catholic, some aspects of his role have nevertheless been surprising.
“There are still things that once you're actually living it and experiencing it, like, ‘Oh, OK, this is what it's actually like," he says. “So this is a little thing, but just how structured the day is, I didn't really think about that. But the bell schedule just rules the day, everything is dictated by that, which is nice in some ways and challenging in other ways.”
One other surprise?
“I wasn't really planning on teaching very much,” Father Joe says. “I didn't think that that was really part of the role, but I have been teaching a little bit more this year. And I really didn't have any training on how to teach. But I’m learning fast, and from some of the best teachers there are.”
Typically, a school chaplain remains in the role for five or six years. But Father Joe wouldn’t mind if it lasted a bit longer.
“You just never know,” he says. “A lot can happen, but I love being here. I'd be happy to be here for a while.”
Originally published in Faith Magazine from the Diocese of Lansing