Siblings credit upbringing, parish support as key to nurturing ‘charism’ of vocations
Detroit — Deacon Joe Campbell is close to his nine siblings, but he shares a special bond with two of his sisters in particular. All three of them answered God’s call to a religious vocation.
For most of his life, Deacon Campbell has called them “sister” in a formal way: Sr. Mary Joseph, OP, and Sr. Mary Jacinta, OP. The two are with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, in Ann Arbor. Deacon Campbell is a transitional deacon for the Diocese of Lansing studying at Sacred Heart Major Seminary.
“I don’t even have memories of Sr. Mary Joseph not being in religious life because she entered the community when I was 6 years old,” said Deacon Campbell, who is 12 years younger than Sr. Mary Joseph and eight years younger than Sr. Mary Jacinta. “I grew up going to visit her at the convent. It was just the norm. To me, talking to a religious sister or a priest wasn’t anything unusual.”
Sr. Mary Joseph was the first to enter religious life, joining the Ann Arbor Dominicans in 1997. She had considered religious life from a young age, recalling a time in fifth grade when two religious sisters told her they thought she was going to be a sister one day.
“I remember thinking, ‘You’re right,’” Sr. Mary Joseph said. “I almost surprised myself by reacting that way.”
In the year 2000, Sr. Mary Jacinta also joined the Dominicans, but unlike her sister, she hadn’t been considering the vocation from a young age.
“In my mind, I didn’t even think about it when Sr. Mary Joseph first entered. I saw myself with a husband and a big family and I wanted to be a children’s book author,” Sr. Mary Jacinta said. “But then I started visiting her at the motherhouse, and I saw the joy there. That was very attractive to me.”
Nine years after his second sister entered religious life, Deacon Campbell entered St. John Vianney Seminary in St. Paul, Minn. He had spent his childhood talking about being a priest and staging “play Masses” for the family — sometimes reprimanding siblings for not participating as enthusiastically as he’d like. But when he entered high school, he had second thoughts about the priesthood.
“I always thought if you were called to the priesthood you wouldn’t be interested in girls or think about marriage,” he said. “I remember holding my little niece one time and it struck me that I would never have my own children.”
Deacon Campbell started to date and made plans to attend Eastern Michigan University for music.
“I did all those things thinking they would make me happy, but I was the least happy I’d ever been,” Deacon Campbell said. “I didn’t have peace. I knew I was running away from God.”
The summer after high school graduation, Deacon Campbell broke up with his girlfriend of a couple months, withdrew from Eastern Michigan, and began studies at St. John Vianney Seminary. Once again, he was at peace but continued to pray for discernment. At the end of his third year in seminary, he finally felt a definitive call from God to the priesthood and was eager to finish college and move on to major seminary.
His sisters say they knew all along.
“We always had it on our minds since he had been talking about it since he was a little boy,” Sr. Mary Jacinta said. “I didn’t say this to him, but we were so confident in the solidity of his vocation that I knew when he was wavering it was only temporary.”
Some ask the siblings how their family produced so many religious vocations.
“I really think for some families, vocations are a charism,” Sr. Mary Joseph said. “If you knew us, you’d know we’re no more special than anyone else. We have big problems like any family. But we grew up going to daily Mass and having a Catholic culture in our home.”
Deacon Campbell agrees and also cites his parish, Christ the King in Ann Arbor, with helping him hear God’s plan for his life.
“The parish prayed for vocations regularly,” Deacon Campbell said. “Our seminarians would serve when they were home at Christmas and I’d see them and think, ‘That could be me.’”
Sr. Mary Joseph says prayer was the key to discerning her vocation and recommends the same for the young people she teaches in her current assignment as a junior high school teacher.
“Our culture is very demanding. Technology has really hurt prayer,” Sr. Mary Joseph said. “We experience God in reality — in the quiet moments. We need to make time for prayer without distractions.”
While some people will be called to religious life, others to single life and many to the vocation of marriage, all three Campbell siblings say true happiness comes from living out what God has planned.
Deacon Campbell will be ordained a priest on June 10, 2017, in the Diocese of Lansing. His sisters — both religious and lay — will be there.