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General News of Sunday, 17 May 2015


My life as labourer, welder, nurse

People know him like they know their palms. His name is so popular you hardly would find any Ghanaian who would scratch his or her head before remembering who you are talking about. He is one of Ghana’s most influential persons. He is extremely popular; highly revered, and widely honoured.

But if you think we are exaggerating, kindly dash down to the office of the Very Reverend Father Andrew Campbell at Christ The King Catholic Church, located behind the Liberation Square, directly opposite the Presidential Palace, the Flagstaff House, and you would be dazed by the surfeit of plaques that adorn a whole wing of the room.

This is not to mention the many pictures showing him shaking hands and rubbing shoulders with Ghana’s most powerful-Presidents, Chiefs and fellow icons.

Yet, Father Andrew Campbell is as humble and gentle as a dove. He carries no airs. Despite his achievements, and the great works he has done, and he is still doing in the country, which have endeared him to the great people of his adopted country of 44 years, he looks like your man next door.

“I live the life of Christ,” he explains to Weekend Sun on why he is so humble and does not wave his achievements like a banner. “If Christ lives in you and you in Him, you cannot afford to be arrogant. You must be humble.”

As a high-profile priest, Father Campbell, 69, sees people, especially women of different shapes, sizes and complexions every day. He prays for and with them. They come to him for counselling and prayers, seeking spiritual solutions to the myriad of problems that beset them. But like a Cardinal once told one of the reporters, some women come to Holy Fathers (Priests) not to pray but to lure them into eating the forbidden fruit.

But has any woman tempted Father Campbell, by locking the door against him, unstrapping her shirt to expose her voluptuous chest, and pressing him to have her? Has it ever happened that way?

Although the highly revered Father admits that “everybody can be tempted,” he says it has never happened to him. And if any woman tries it, he says seriously, she would live to regret it.

“I will fight her,” declares Father Campbell, matter-of-factly. “God has given me my hands to fight. I’ve got a voice and I’ve got my hands, and I will fight, and I will defend myself.”

Scream and scamper for help? The Weekend Sun team asks the Reverend Father, playing the devil’s advocate.

“I will defend myself because I respect myself,” he says without mincing words. “I respect what God has given to me as a priest. I respect it and I want it to remain that way till I die. To be faithful to God no matter what comes my way. I will struggle, I will shout, I will scream. I’m defending my dignity as a Catholic priest.”

Apart from working his fingers to the bones to save lives on the bend, and restore sinners to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, the Very Rev. Campbell, who originally hailed from Ireland, is also providing great comfort and company for cured lepers. As chairman of the Leper’s Aid Committee, the priest has done enormous job in bringing hope and sunshine to the lives of Ghana’s community of cured and ailing lepers, who continuously battle stigmatisation and ostracism.

For almost two hours, upper Thursday, Father Campbell opened his life like a book to this newspaper. The result is this un-put-downable interview reproduced below. Please, sit back, relax and enjoy all of it.


Reverend Father, how long have you been in Ghana?

I came to Ghana on October 13, 1971. This is 44 years now. I was ordained a Catholic Priest on December 20, 1970, in Dublin – in the West of Ireland. I studied in the West of Ireland. I continued my studies until June 1971 and, then, I took the boat from Liverpool, on October 1 to Ghana. I arrived in Ghana on October 13. I spent 13 days on the high seas and I have been here ever since.

But you go home occasionally?

Every three years, we go for two months holidays.

Every three years? Not even once a year? Do you miss home?

Very much! I mean, you are brought up at home and you like to be there. But each time I go home, there is always a few members of family and friends missing. They died in the meantime. We are not getting any younger. My best friend died just two years ago.

How old was he?

He was 67. We used to play football and volleyball together. I have always loved sports. I was always playing volleyball, football, basketball and the rest. My first wedding was his wedding. I baptised his grandchildren; I married his children and so on. I’m going to miss him when I go home but this is part of life.

How old are you?

I was born in 1946; so, I’m 69 this year.

You don’t look 69 at all. What’s the secret?

I have spent virtually all my years here in Ghana. I was 24 when I was ordained a priest and that was young because you are not supposed to be ordained until you are 25.

Why the exemption?

There were three of us in our class ready for ordination. We were all 24. So, they had to apply to Rome for a dispensation to ordain us. So, they ordained us at 24 and I came to Ghana when I was 25.

What did you study?

I did my philosophy in Maynooth in West of Ireland; that was three years. Then, I did four years degree in Theology in St. Patrick’s College in Maynooth, which is a famous pontifical college. It’s a very, very big college for priests. I finished there in 1971. So, I went to seminary when I was 18 years of age. Yes, I was young when I went to the seminary. I always felt called to be a priest. I always felt called to come to Ghana.

My first wish was to come to Africa. When I was a little boy, in primary school, I used to read these magazines on Africa. There were African magazines from different congregations and they passed them round the school, and I used to see priests going around in their white cassocks, hearing confessions, giving communion and visiting the sick. So, as a young boy in primary school, I felt called to come to Africa. So, I finished my primary school and wanted to go to secondary school. But my family said ‘we don’t have money to send you to secondary school. So, go and work.’ So, when I was 13 years of age, I went to work.

Which work?

I went to work as a labourer.

In a farm?

No, in a wholesale grocery.

At that age, did you say?

At 13! I got 30 shillings a week!! My family needed the money. My brother died when he was a baby. Then, I had two sisters, my mum and my daddy. So, I used to cycle every morning to work. As a first year, I was in the back of a van, delivering goods to all of the city of Dublin, delivering wholesale groceries.

Then, after one year, I was promoted to the shack. There, we were selling wholesale chocolates, sweets, cheese, cigarettes, all of these. But I still wanted to be a priest.

And so, at the age of 15, I decided to go to the minors’ seminary in England. I did my secondary school in three years, so, I had a lot to catch up. And then, every time we came on holidays, during the long vacation, I worked. I used to work. No extra class; we didn’t have extra classes. I worked in factories.

I worked in different places; all sorts of places. Even when I became a seminarian, I worked in London as a welder. I worked in Woolwich. There was this huge factory in Woolwich at the time. I was a welder there. Then, the following two years, I worked in a hospital in Liverpool. This was during my holiday time.

Still, as a welder?

No, as an auxiliary male nurse. I worked in the urological ward for one year. I didn’t even know what the word meant. The next year, I went to the out-patients and the accident unit. Then, the next year, I went back as a priest and worked there as a chaplain.

So, I really worked, and this helped me a lot. This is what I feel young seminarians should do because it makes you feel with the people. You go work with them; you earn a wage; you look after yourself; you take care of yourself. We used to buy our clothes and the rest.

I also remember 1964, the year they were going to take me to the major seminary. I worked in the supermarket. I was 18 years of age. I had got my letter admitting me to the major seminary to start my noviciate and philosophy, and they gave me a list of clothing. So, I worked in the supermarket sweeping floors and putting food on the shelves. Somebody gave me a present of a pair of shoes, I bought my suit with my 30 shillings a week wages. But, then, I needed black cassocks – black cassock because in Ireland, we wear black – and that was 10 pounds.

You had to buy from the school?

No, I had to buy them before I went to the school. I had no grandmother, grandfather. I had no rich aunty or uncle to help me. I had nobody. So, I said ‘what am I going to do?’ Then, one morning, I got a letter, through the Post Box and the letter came from somebody I didn’t know. He didn’t even sign it. It was anonymous. It said ‘Dear Mr. Campbell, please, accept these 10 pounds as a gift from me. I hope you become a holy and good priest. Pray for me and my children.’

That’s the exact amount you needed…

(Cuts in…) Exactly! So, from then on, I knew God is with me. And this is a testimony that God will take care of me for the rest of my life. He took care of me because I am the only one in my family who went to secondary school. I’m the only one in the family that went to university. And here I was going to the seminary, no money. Then, all of sudden, I get this 10-pound note. With the money, I paid for everything I needed. That’s how I started.

How many children in the family?

There were four of us but my little brother died. I’m the first born, boy. That’s why I am called Nii Lantey. My little brother was a blue baby and he died as a baby. Then, my elder sister, who was a year older than me, died three months after I came to Ghana in 1971, in a motorbike accident. So, there are two of us left – my younger sister and myself.

How did that affect you?

Very much! They were coming through the traffic lights, which were green and a man came from the side and knocked them down and killed her. I was broken; I cried. Then, my mother died nine months after I went to the seminary. I went to the seminary in 1964. Later, my mother was paralysed and she died.

She had stroke?

She was all paralysed.

What age was she?

She was 51. She was very young. And then, my father died when I went to the Cathedral in 1976. He died of cancer. He used to smoke. I hate smoking. I was with my father for the few months he was dying. He was only between 63 and 64. I was with him till he died. I remember one day, I went to the nurse in the hospital.

He stayed at home because he couldn’t stay in the hospital. He was able to walk around but every day he was just getting weaker. So, I went to the matron and I said, ‘my daddy is in the next room to me. What will I do if he gets sick in the night?’ She said: ‘Just trust in God; He will take care of him’.

So, I went back to the church and I told God: ‘Look, you win. You can take daddy but I want two favours.’ I said the first favour I want to get is: I want to be with my daddy when he died. Second favour I want is that I don’t want daddy to be in pain.’ On June 27, 1976, I was with my father when he died. He died in my arms; no pain. And, I was the only one that was there with him. He died in my arms quietly. I was so close to my father.

We weren’t like father and son, we were like two brothers. He died in my arms and went to God. Since that day, I am not afraid of death because I have seen death. I was with my father when he died and it had such a big effect on me. I was happy now my father is gone to God. I took him there as it were and that had a big effect on me.

What was the experience like nurturing a man afflicted with cancer; the pain?

He had no pain. My father was lucky.

No pain?

He had no pain. He was on this medication and he was doing well. I stayed with him. We used to go for walks. He was just losing weight – little by little but no pain.

Or is it because he knew how to subdue his pain?

The whole chest was cancerous and he was just losing weight little by little by little but no pain. He didn’t even know he had cancer. I spoke to him all the time and then, the day before he died the priest came to see him and had to give him communion and confession. He told the priest – which he never told – I never wanted Andrew to go to Africa because, I was so close to him. I was his only son. But he never stopped. He never said Andrew don’t go.

What was his reason for not letting you go to Africa?

I was so close to him; he didn’t want to lose me. He had lost his wife; he had lost my sister and my brother. And, we used to go everywhere together. We used to watch football matches together. We used to do everything together; and we used to go cycling together. We were very close to each other; extremely close. But he had said ‘God is calling you, so, go’. I am the last one. The Campbell name stops with me but he didn’t hesitate to say ‘go’. My father was a wonderful father. My mother too!

What was his last word to you?

His last words? I always remember. He was in bed that day – the only day he was ever in bed the whole day. It was Sunday, the 27th of June, 1976. In the morning, he wasn’t well. So, we called the doctor and the doctor said there was nothing he could do. So, I went to mass in the evening at six o’clock. When I came back at seven, I went over to his room and said ‘Daddy, what do you want for tea?’ He said, ‘Just give me milk and some bread.’ That’s all. Those were his last words to me.

Then, I went up, down, and when I went back up, he was in a comma. I just sat with him and I prayed him the rosary and anointed him. And he just quietly left. It was a beautiful experience. There were no tears. I just felt so happy. I knew my father was going to a place where there is no more pain, no more suffering. It was a beautiful experience that I can never forget; that God listened to my prayers and said no pain and I would be with him! I was the only one with him.

It is amazing that somebody will suffer from cancer and will not experience excruciating pain.

Yes. He didn’t because I was with him every day and I used to bring him communion every day. God listened to my prayer. God was good to me.