Profiling Willie Campbell

I was born into a family that had two Dominican Sisters.  Both were cousins of my father, one on the Tither side and one a Collins.  They were Sisters when I was born so there was always Sisters in my life.   We used to go and visit them in the Convent.  They never came home to see family in those days.  The surroundings were always very different to anywhere else I went on a family visit.  There were all the religious pictures on the wall.  You were told to sit still and behave yourself.  They always asked “are you behaving yourself.”  We were always quite pleased to go home.

I went to Kurow District High School when I was five.  The thing I remember was that it took a long time to walk there.  I was only there two years and then I went to a Dominican Boarding School in North Otago, St Patrick’s College, Teschemakers for 11 years.   High in my memories of Teschemakers is the 6.30am Mass in the Chapel each morning.   We started going when we were about 10 years old.  It was a totally multi-sensory experience.  You were hungry.  You had been fasting since teatime the night before.  People fainted sometimes.  We were young, we were up early and we were hungry.  We were in an incredibly beautiful chapel – Romanesque with stained glass windows and the light would change dramatically from the time we entered in to the time that we came out.  The priests wore beautifully embroidered garments.   On special feasts we had incense.  We sang every day and all your senses were being catered for and enhanced.  Because it was a girls boarding school, even though it was in the days that women didn’t go past the altar rails, there were always girls sitting at the front saying the Latin responses and ringing the bells.  There was a level of contribution that girls wouldn’t get in a parish.  Mass in Kurow seemed dull and boring.   By the time I was 12 or 13 I was playing Harmonium (an instrument that you pedal to get the sound).   Those are everlastingly telling things in my upbringing.

My stepfather who was a good Presbyterian man used to keep impressing on me how good the sisters were in that they could run an entire boarding school without a man in sight.  They managed the farm and the school, the finances, the maintenance  in addition to the actual professional running of the school and a boarding establishment. There was a farm manager but that was about it. They were superb role models of what women could achieve.

While I always kept contact with ex-pupils,  in mid-life I reconnected with the Dominican spiritual life  through Summer Schools and Chapters and visiting Dominicans.  Some of the international visitors I remember are: Barbara Reid, Anne Willetts, Paddy Bruno, Jude Siciliano and David Kammler, Promoter of Laity.    These opportunities really encouraged me to look again at the Dominican charism  and re-energised my interest in all things Dominican.  At one of these Mike Kelly and Jenny Wilson talked about establishing a connectivity of some sort for lay people and I put my name down at that point.  These things were very influential in what I do now.

Local retreats and prayer gatherings have interested me in the Dominican heritage and helped with the gaps in my knowledge.  I read widely and look for relevant websites.   Three that I find valuable and would recommend are:

  • The new edition of Dialogue As Mission edited by Kevin Toomey O.P.and Prakash Anthony Lohale O.P.
  • -a website of Catherine Siena, kept by Thomas McDermott.O.P
  • McDermott’s  Book- “Filled with all the fullness of God: An introduction to  Catholic Spirituality” that has Dominican examples all the way through it.

I belong to a group of seven Dunedin Dominican people calling ourselves The Pilgrims.  We meet about every six weeks, to pray and read. We are currently working through a book called Praying with Dominic. By Michael Monshau.