EARLIER TODAY I received an email from Joseph Michael Campbell (reproduced below)
which enabled me to recall a significant conversation I had with Frank Duff, the Founder of the Legion of Mary way back in the 1970’s.  My secretary, Mary Mooney, an active member of the Legion of Mary, came to me one day and asked me to lead a pilgrimage of members of the Legion in Georgia, Florida and Alabama to the Legion Headquarters in Dublin, Ireland.    At the time I was Bishop of Pennsacola-Tallahassee.  I had a lot of responsibilities at the time trying to organize the newly founded Diocese and I urged her to find someone else.  She came back later and told me that she and the other members of the Legion had approached all the other bishops of our region as well as many priests and they could find no one to lead their pilgrimage.

My heart went out to the members of the Legion of Mary.  I knew that in the false ‘spirit of Vatican II’
most of the clergy considered the Legion to be retrograde and medieval and that it was slowly dying in the United States.  I had always been much impressed with willingness of the members of the Legion in Pensacola-Tallahassee to participate in an annual Perigrinatio pro Christo in which they would go door -to-door evangelizing the predominately non-Catholic population of Bible-Belt north Florida.  So I agreed to lead their pilgrimage.

As it turned out, just when we were about to leave on the pilgrimage, Pope Paul VI, who had appointed me a bishop  in 1971 died.  I told Mary Mooney that I would fly to Rome for the funeral of the Pope and then I would fly to Dublin and join the pilgrimage.  They left for Lourdes and Dublin and I left for Rome and Dublin.  After the funeral I took an Aer Lingus flight from Rome to Dublin.  Unknown in advance to me, the flight made a scheduled stop at Lourdes and since I had not yet been to Lourdes I went to the open door of the plane to look at the landscape as we waited for the new passengers to board.  Much to my shock and surprise leading the new passengers across the tarmac to board the plane were the members of my pilgrimage.  We joyfully continued on to Dublin.

Now to the point of this post.  In Dublin I had the pleasure of meeting and talking at length with Frank Duff, who, please God, will someday be canonized and recognized for the saint that he was.  I asked Frank Duff what was the secret of his great success in winning converts to the Church.  He replied that every year he spent his summers bicycling through Europe and everywhere he went he engaged people in conversation.  After a while he would ask each person  if he or she was a Catholic.  On being told that they were not, Frank Duff would ask: “Sure, and have you ever thought about being a Catholic?”

Simply asking the question, Frank Duff told me, planted the seed and the Holy Spirit did the rest. Sooner or later that person would ask himself or herself the question, “Why am I not a Catholic?”  God’s grace would then do the rest, Frank Duff said.

I have used Frank Duff’s technique of evangelizing many, many times.  I have found it to be especially valuable in promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life.  I have asked many a boy, “Have you every thought about being a priest?”  In both Pennsacola-Tallahassee and Corpus Christi God bless those dioceses with many vocations to the priesthood.



When my wife Helen left the hospital with Mark, our first born, she did not come back to our apartment, but to our first home on David St. in Ann Arbor.  That was November, 1974.  Across the street lived this Catholic couple, Tim and Laura*.  They were both history professors at the nearby University of Michigan.

Throughout the years we lived in this house, we had a warm friendly relationship with these neighbors.   We started our grocery business out of the basement and garage of our house.  Not infrequently, Tim came over to buy some needed household item.  So our contact with one another was fairly frequent.

Seven years later our family moved closer to the store we were then renting on Huron St. in Ann Arbor.  Needless to say, Tim didn’t come as often to our store now that it wasn’t conveniently across the street.  Eventually, Tim retired and his wife, Laura, accepted the offer of the chairmanship of the history department of a prestigious Catholic University on the east coast.  A few years ago, I stumbled into Laura’s department email address.  I wrote her and told her what was now happening with our children.  She, in turn, emailed back telling me about their children.

This past summer when I began to write my family memoirs, I put Laura on my email list of recipients.  After receiving a few of them, she emailed back, expressing her delight at the installments she had read.  While Laura enjoyed my memoirs, what I sent her months later was, not my memoirs, but my reflections on contemporary issues.  She was alarmed and deeply upset about what I had to say about Obama.  She was so disturbed that she wrote demanding I remove her from my email list of recipients.  She accused me of hate speech and went so far as to claim my writing was diabolic.  Laura probably wondered: What has happened to Joe that he speaks in such a way about Obama?  Well, let me explain.

This time, last year, I was thrown off of the U. of M. campus.  Why?  I had an A-frame, much like the one we had for years on the diag to do campus evangelizing.  However, after experiencing more than six years of consistent apathy and indifference when attempting to proclaim the gospel, I decided to return to the campus with a new twist to address the staff, faculty and student apathy and indifference.

Do you know what I did?  It was the same thing I did many years earlier that resulted in my being fired from three different Catholic high schools.  It was simple.  I weaved a current issue into my Christian evangelizing on campus.  What was the current issue?  Using a large A-frame, much like what we did in the past with our Catholic Evidence Guild,  we challenged the university community’s thinking about the coming presidential election.  On the top of the A-frame it read: The Light of the World.  Under the words was a simple cross so everyone would realize this was a Christian witness.  Then in big bold letters it said: STOP OBAMA.  Under that was a quote: Obama wants babies who survive abortion to die.

What was the results?  Apathy and indifference was eliminated, as I had hoped.  My hope was that the stark presentation of the truth would generate dialog.  Here I was wrong.  The truth didn’t generate dialog but, instead, the major response was anger.

During my second day on the diag, the Diag administrators came up to me and politely told me to leave.  So I did.  A week later I was going to the Dental School for a regular appointment.  Getting to the Dental School early, I decided to see what was happening on the diag.  What did I see?  An extremist group, preaching hate in the name of Jesus.  From my six years experience of evangelizing on the diag, I was well aware of the freedom these hate groups were always allowed on the diag.  They were treated like an entertaining circus on campus.  Why did they have such freedom?  It was quite obvious.  These people discredited Christianity which is exactly what the administration wants.

Discovering the technicality the university used to get rid of me, I eliminated it when I returned a few days later.  Now with the knowledge that my A-frame did not generate dialog but instead anger, I used a more subtle way to get the message of so many American bishops to the university community.  What did I do?  I returned with a banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe and on the bottom it read: WHO WOULD JESUS VOTE FOR?

Even with this non-controversial banner, the diag administrators attempted to make me leave the campus but I knew they had no grounds to make me leave.  They had enough sense to back off.  Had they made me leave, I would have gone to our local Thomas More Law Center for support.  The law center’s mission is to support Catholics who are being persecuted for their Catholic values.

Much more happened during the campaign period but it would take a book to write about it.  But instead of talking about that, I would like to make an observation in light of my years of street evangelism and jail ministry.  What did all these experiences teach me?  There is an enormous hunger for the gospel.

The obvious question flowing from this realization is: What can we do to effectively spread the gospel?  The answer to that question will be as varied as the individuals who read this reflection.  I don’t know how the Lord is speaking to you, but I know how the Lord has been speaking to me.  Let me share with you some of the ordinary things I instinctively do to evangelizing.

Like most of us, I do a little shopping once or twice a week.  When I am in a store and checking out, I talk to the cashier.  A typical line I have is to tell them we have ten children and only the two oldest are married.  Then I say we have twelve grand children.  What do I then say?  There ought to be two telephone directories in Ann Arbor, one for the Campbells and one for the rest of the city.  It usually gets a laugh.

What is going on when I do that?  Am I not giving a witness to Life?  What better better way to tell a person that I support Life than the choice Helen and I made to have ten children?  Not infrequently, the cashier will say: “How did you wife do it?”  I tell them what Helen has often told people.  What is that? “I get on my knees and pray every day.”  What does the cashier typically say in response?  “That explains it.”  After that I pick up my bag and say goodbye.

The world tells us it is too difficult or impossible to have more than one or two children.  But we had ten.  And we tell people why we have been able to do the impossible.  Why?  Because we have daily sought the help of God, who by nature, is the God of the impossible.  This is subtle but very effective evangelism right in the midst of my daily activities.

During the campaign I was painfully aware of Obama’s record of aggressively promoting the culture of death.  For this reason, we put an image of Mary tenderly caressing and kissing Jesus on three panels of our van.  Above the picture of Mary and Jesus it said: YES TO BABIES.  Then on the bottom of the picture, it said: NO TO OBAMA.  Fearing this might be too subtle for many drivers, we put under the rear window, the following: WE HAVE TEN CHILDREN AND TWELVE GRANDCHILDREN.  Such a ‘billboard’ should make it clear that we supported life and, for this reason, we opposed Obama.

I realize that many of my brothers and sisters would find such a billboarding of their cars and vans unappealing.  Probably because I owned a grocery store for 26 years, I found such ‘advertising’ both appealing and compelling.  What do I suggest to my brothers and sisters?  Beg the Lord to give you a passion to proclaim the gospel and then watch were his Holy Spirit leads you.

*The names of our neighbors have been changed.


About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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