Ireland House Oral History Collection

Fr. Colm Campbell

Created/Published:

13 November 2006

2 hours, 33 minutes, 15 seconds

Preferred Citation:

Ireland House Oral History Collection, Archives of Irish America, New York University

Biographical Note:

Fr. Colm Campbell, President of the Board and acting Executive Director of the New York Irish Center (Failte Care Corporation), is the former Director of the Irish Apostolate USA. Born in Belfast, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland in 1935, he worked there through the worst of the Troubles until his 1992 assignment as a chaplain to Irish immigrants in the United States.

The oldest child of J.J. and Josephine Campbell, Colm was raised in New Lodge, a working-class Catholic community on the northern edge of Belfast’s city center. He attended primary school at Holy Family on the Antrim Road and, for two years during World War II, at St. Nicholas in Ardglass, Co. Down. His secondary education was received at St. Malachy’s College on the Antrim Road, where his father had been a star pupil. From 1953 to 1956 Campbell studied math, Irish history, Greek and Latin at Queens University Belfast where he also attained a BA in scholastic philosophy; during this period he entered St. Malachy’s Seminary to begin his studies for priesthood. After four years at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, in the Republic of Ireland, Campbell was ordained for the Diocese of Down and Connor in Northern Ireland on 19 June 1960.

Fr. Campbell’s first assignment was as chaplain to the Good Shepherd Convent at 511 Ormeau Road in Belfast. The convent provided shelter and social services (including adoption) for single mothers and their children. He set up his first youth club there during the winter of 1962–1963. In 1967, Fr. Campbell was transferred to Crumlin, just northwest of Belfast, where his duties included being chaplain to the Royal Air Force station in Aldergrove.

After five years, Fr. Campbell was sent as a curate to Andersonstown in west Belfast. He arrived at his new assignment in the midst of the Troubles, witnessing an unchecked level of violence fueled by both the British Army and the Irish Republican Army. A Catholic population explosion in the area – the result of new public housing estates like Ballymurphy and Turf Lodge – in conjunction with heightened political tensions, left young people particularly vulnerable by the early 1970s. Fr. Campbell worked to provide a safe alternative for socializing, successfully establishing ten youth clubs that were still in operation at the time of this interview. During this period, he also received an advanced diploma in community work from Birmingham University in England, studied marriage counseling, and wrote his thesis on managing volunteers.

In 1985, Fr. Campbell’s work in Andersonstown was noticed by Bishop Cahal Daly, who made him the Director of Youth Services for the Diocese of Down and Conner. In 1991, Fr. Campbell helped establish Youth Link(1), an inter-faith organization that provides “opportunities for young people and youth workers in all areas of Northern Ireland working with Church, para-Church and community based organizations.”

Thinking about a sabbatical and learning about the need for a chaplain in New York, Fr. Campbell transferred to the Diocese of Brooklyn in 1992 under the auspices of the Irish Episcopal Commission for Emigrants. There he served as chaplain to young Irish immigrants from a base at St. Teresa’s parish in Woodside, Queens. In 1999 Fr. Campbell was appointed National Director of the Irish Apostolate USA,(2) based in Washington D.C., and worked closely with the Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers,(3) a national umbrella organization coordinating services for Irish immigrants in the United States.

In July 2004, Fr. Campbell retired for health reasons but was persuaded, in March 2005, to help found the New York Irish Center(4) in Long Island City, Queens, New York. He also began studying theology at St. John’s University in Jamaica, New York and, at the time of this interview, was teaching theology there in addition to his work at the New York Irish Center.

Interviewers:

Photo Credit:

  1. Fr. Colm Campbell, 13 November 2006. Photo by Marion R. Casey.

Notes:

  1. Youth Link: NI (http://www.youthlink.org.uk/)
  2. Irish Apostalate USA (www.usairish.org)
  3. Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers (http://www.ciic-usa.org/)
  4. New York Irish Center (http://www.newyorkirishcenter.org/)