By Maureen Smith
MADISON – Ask a retired priest what he does and he will probably say, ‘not much.’ Ask someone at his parish or school and you will get a very different story. Cases in point, Father Edward Balser and Father Alfred Camp.
After a lifetime of service to the church they are spending their retirement continuing to help.
Father Balser is a master carpenter. He uses the shop in his home to design and build almost anything you can imagine for kids from toys and custom changing tables to a portable dress-up station. All of his creations find their home in the early learning centers of the diocese.“He co
mes to visit and he asks me what we need,” said Jennifer Henry, director of Flowood St. Paul Early Learning Center. He created a changing table for the 2-year-old classroom with stairs attached so the toddlers could climb up themselves. “The craftsmanship is just beautiful,” added Henry. She said items he made for Madison St. Francis of Assisi Early Learning Center many years ago are as solid as ever.
Henry said someone on her staff saw a picture of a closet for dress-up clothes. They showed it to Father Balser and he designed one “even better,” said Henry. He put it on wheels so the classes could share it and even filled it with dress-up outfits before he delivered it. He donates his time and all the supplies needed for the furniture and toys.
He does not think of the work as work. “It’s not that religious, but it is for the church,” he explained. “I love carpentry and I love those little kids,” he said. “I have a full shop and that’s what I do to stay busy,” he added.
Father Camp is a familiar face at Madison St. Anthony School. “I try to teach Latin to sixth graders,” he joked, adding that the students really are interested and have good language and learning skills. Father Camp spent most of his career as a Latin teacher, first in the seminary and then for 20 years “or so” in Vicksburg. About five years ago Msgr. Flannery asked if he would be interested in offering Latin in the elementary school. He said he wants to introduce the children to the idea of Latin and Roman culture.
“Father Camp greatly enriches the community of St. Anthony. To the students he shares his knowledge of Latin. To the staff he shares his wisdom and experience of many years working in Catholic schools. Most importantly, he supports the St. Anthony families and community with his prayers and ever present smile. We are blessed to have Father Camp, a retired priest, teaching at our school,” said Mamie
Sheldrick, development director of St. Anthony. Both priests try to help out when their brother priests are out of town. Father Balser said he tries to help out when the Irish priests go home in the summer, celebrating Masses and hearing confessions where needed.
The diocese supports more than a dozen retired priests through the Catholic Service Appeal, which allocates $70,000 to make sure their needs are met. That figure is sure to rise as more priests from the diocese reach retirement age. Your donation is a way to thank those men who spent their lives in service, both during their active ministry and in retirement. The appeal is getting close to this year’s goal, but still needs support. Donate through your parish or online at http://csa.jacksondiocese.org.