Father Joseph Champlin passes away after fighting illness
By Connie Cissell
Father Joseph Champlin, born May 11, 1930, died at age 77 at 7 p.m. on Jan. 17 at University Hospital in Syracuse. His battle with Waldenstrom’s Disease, a rare form of bone cancer, finally ended. He was the son of Francis Malburn and Katherine Masson Champlin and stepson of Charles Haynes. He leaves behind a brother and sister-in-law, Charles and Peggy Champlin of Los Angeles, Ca. and a sister and brother-in-law, Nancy and David Kreis of Syracuse, 10 nieces and nephews and countless devoted friends.
Father Champlin graduated from Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. in 1947. He studied at Yale and Notre Dame Universities before attending seminary at St. Bernard’s in Rochester. Father Champlin was ordained on Feb. 2, 1956 and served as an associate at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception after ordination. He served as Associate Director of the Liturgy Secretariat for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops from 1968 to 1971. Father Champlin served as pastor of Holy Family Church in Fulton, and St. Joseph’s Church in Camillus before being assigned rector at the Cathedral in 1995. He served in that position until 2005 when he semi-retired and went on to serve as sacramental minister of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Warners.
A prolific writer, Father Champlin wrote over 50 books with more than 20 million copies in print. He circled the globe traveling two million miles lecturing, conducting retreats and sharing his expertise on liturgy and pastoral care.
Besides his writing and pastoral leadership, Father Champlin was a fine athlete who was often seen jogging downtown during his 10-year tenure as rector of the Cathedral. He ran because he enjoyed it, but he also ran to draw attention to one of his favorite causes, the Guardian Angel Society. Over the course of 10 years Father Champlin raised $2 million to help students with tuition to Catholic elementary and high schools. He raised funds through sponsorship at local running events and he worked tirelessly promoting an annual luncheon and dinner dance that support the Guardian Angel Society.
Syracuse Diocese Bishop James Moynihan noted upon Father Champlin’s passing that, “The Diocese of Syracuse has lost a great servant. He epitomized the definition of a gentleman and a priest.”
Retired Bishop Thomas Costello had known Father Champlin for nearly 60 years and spoke of his personal relationship with him. “He always said the one thing he was most proud of was pastoring the parishes. He had a fantastic ability to know people — to know their names, their husbands’ names, their father-in-law’s names,” Bishop Costello said.
Bishop Costello visited Father Champlin during his latest hospital stay and noted his marked weakness over previous visits. “He was ready. He had tried everything else, now he’s trying God. He was a friend,” Bishop Costello said.
Diagnosed with Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia in 2002, Father Champlin took his diagnosis and turned it into a personal learning and spiritual experience. He shared the news with parishioners at the Cathedral in hopes that they could glean some useful information for themselves.
Although many of Father Champlin’s books dealt with liturgical and sacramental topics, some of his later work was more pointed and reflective, giving advice and direction to those on a spiritual journey. In 2003, Ave Maria Press released Slow Down: Five Minute Reflections to De-Stress Your Days, a compilation of 101 radio spots that were broadcast locally. Then in 2004, Alba House published From Time to Eternity and Back, a personal account of his struggle with cancer. However, his most read book is titled, Together for Life. It is a handbook on marriage and has over nine million copies in print.
In previous stories in The Catholic SUN, Father Champlin described his writing as a “compulsion” and said he did not necessarily enjoy it, but that it was something he had to do. He rose early every morning and practiced great discipline with his prayer life and writing, setting aside time each day for both. As Father Champlin struggled with his illness, he served in a small parish community in Warners, close to his cottage on Skaneateles Lake. He loved swimming and said he was pleased to be in an environment where he could hear the birds sing in the morning and where he could get in some time at the lake. Aware that his time left on earth was limited, Father Champlin said his time in Warners also allowed him to tend to the many relationships he had made over the years.
Father John Finnegan, pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Baldwinsville, was ordained with Father Champlin and then served with him at the Cathedral as new priests. He said that during their 57-year friendship, they never passed an unpleasant word between them.
Although he wasn’t with Father Champlin when he died, Father Finnegan had visited him every day during his hospital stay. During his last visit, Father Finnegan reminded Father Champlin, “I said to Joe, ‘We’ve always had an agreement that you’d put a good word in for me,’ and he smiled and tried to say, ‘yes’.”
Father Champlin served the people of the diocese for more than 50 years. He will be remembered and celebrated with calling hours on Tuesday, Jan. 22 from 3 to 7 p.m. with a Vigil service on Tuesday, Jan. 22 beginning at 7 p.m. and with a funeral Mass on Wednesday, Jan. 23 at 10:30 a.m. All events will take place at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. It should be noted that Father Champlin’s remains will not be present for the calling hours or funeral. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that it is a “noble and meritorious act” (#2296) for persons to donate their entire bodies to science or to a medical school for use by students studying to become physicians. Father Champlin made that choice and donated his body to Upstate Medical Center. However, this process requires the body to be transferred immediately after death to the medical institution. Consequently, having his body and an open casket present for the funeral service, traditional for priests, clearly was not possible.
(Staff writer Luke Eggleston contributed to this article.)