By Joanna Puddister King
NATCHEZ – On Sept. 11, as the choir sang “Jerusalem, My Happy Home,” a sea of priest and deacons in white clerical vestments passed down the center aisle of St. Mary Basilica to pay respects to their brother in Christ, Father Alfred “Al” Camp at a memorial Mass. Father Al passed at the age of 87 on Sept. 1 at St. Dominic hospital in Jackson.
Led by Bishop Joseph Kopacz, hundreds from around the state and the numerous parishes and schools in which Father Camp served, gathered to celebrate a man known for his faith, wisdom, knowledge, humor and service to Catholic schools.
Father Gerry Hurley, pastor of Flowood St. Paul, delivered a homily that celebrated the life of Father Camp, with anecdotes full of humor and love of Christ.
“We gather today for two reasons. To celebrate our faith and hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and to celebrate our hope and faith in the resurrection of Father Al Camp,” said Father Hurley.
“Alfred Camp certainly believed in that faith and hope in the resurrection and he was very keenly aware that was where he was proceeding. The second reason we come together is to celebrate the life of this distinguished man.”
After delivering a summary of Father Camp’s service to the priesthood, Father Hurley noted Father Camp’s immeasurable commitment to Catholic education. “This was his life, this was his passion, this was his vocation,” Father Hurley said of Father Camp’s enduring interest in education.
Father Camp began his life of service as a priest and educator at Vicksburg St. Paul and St. Aloysius school in 1968. He served as teacher and principal of St. Aloysius until 1992, when he was named pastor of St. Mary Basilica in Natchez, where he served until 2004. During that time, he was often present in the halls and supportive of Natchez Cathedral school.
Father Hurley shared stories of Father Camp, including his efforts and humor after a fire at St. Aloysius school, his big green Pontiac and how much he enjoyed ice cream with a big dollop of cool whip. The highlight being a conversation between Father Hurley and Father Camp on his wish to donate his body to science.
“A few years ago [Father Camp] said to me ‘I’m going to donate my body to science … I want them to see how a real man has lived,’” to which the crowd in the pews laughed heartily. Father Hurley continued, “Then he said ‘Not really. I want them to figure out what made me tick. Because I’ve been trying to figure it out for all these years myself.’”
“We know that what made him tick was the spirit of God in him,” said Father Hurley. “He had that spirit. He was an unrelenting and boundless spirit of love and devotion and faithfulness and friendship and care for others.”
In addition to the memorial Mass at St. Mary Basilica, celebrations of Father Camp’s life were held in Vicksburg, Madison and in Ohio with family. On Oct. 25, a “Tailgate for Fr. Camp” will be held in Vicksburg before the St. Aloysius home football game against Natchez Cathedral. More details will be posted on Vicksburg Catholic Schools Facebook page in the coming weeks.