Special to The B.C. Catholic

RICHMOND—“It all started as a shipwreck” for Patrick Campbell and his large blended family.

Campbell, the founder of the Cross of St. Benedict Society, spoke to more than 550 people at the May 26 Marian Conference held by the Ave Maria Centre of Peace. He said his wife, Joy, and their nine children struggled with the fallout of divorce, financial hardship, and a crisis of faith before they discovered their calling.

When Patrick and Joy met, both had undergone divorces. Patrick was a single father of six, Joy a single mother of two. It wasn’t long after their previous relationships were annulled and they were married that they felt shipwrecked.

Their children suffered with psychological, physical, and mental wounds due to the impact of the divorces in their lives. Despite going to doctors’ appointments and therapy sessions, "there was still a wound that would not go away," said Campbell.

Joy figured the only person who had the answer to their problem was Jesus. Her solution was taking their children out of the public school system to be homeschooled, with daily Mass and receiving the sacraments frequently as major components of their religious education. She also sought support groups and counselling and sought solace in prayer.

The family’s life started to change significantly, but one heart still needed to change – Patrick’s.

He lost his job as a senior project manager, plunging the large family into serious financial hardship. He couldn’t find work, and they were facing foreclosure. When his wife suggested they go to a charismatic conference, Patrick said he felt so desperate, he agreed.

God “answered my prayer, not in the way I thought he would,” he told the audience at the Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel. “Your healings are dependent on your surrender to the Lord.”

Before the charismatic conference, the family had worked together to construct a homemade wood cross for Joy’s birthday. Patrick felt the cross they created, in a way, represented their family.

When they went to the conference, Patrick suddenly felt a deep calling from the Lord to “make spiritual weapons for families.”

A ministry was born. The Campbells started making wooden crosses in their home, and eventually was even commissioned to build a 12-foot cross for the charismatic renewal movement and its 50th anniversary in Vatican City.

Without the funds to transport a huge cross from his garage to his warehouse, Campbell was encouraged by a friend to carry the cross in the middle of the day, instead of his initial idea of carrying it at night. He was escorted by police cars as he walked with his sons carrying the “Cross of Renewal,” through the streets of Kingstree, South Carolina.

Catholics “need to rejoice in the heartache. We need to rejoice when God is uplifting our lives, because he is doing something miraculous to us. He is changing us if we surrender. But if we hold on to the way things used to be, we’ll never grow. It’s only when we let go and let God, we surrender completely.”

The Marian conference featured speakers with diverse backgrounds, including Father Vincent Lambert, an exorcist from Indianapolis, Father Bill Halbing, a priest known by some as the “Robin Williams of Priests,” Jose Rodrigues, founder of Ad Te Beate Ioseph, and Michael Russell O’Brien, a former rock musician. Archdiocesan speakers included Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, and Father John Horgan, pastor of St. Pius X Parish.

Michael O’Brien speaking at the Marian Conference May 26.

Tiziana Gaviola, a young member of Our Lady of Mercy Parish, felt inspired.

“What brought me closer to Mama Mary was learning about what she can do, and how she can help you. Not [just] physical, but spiritually as well. She can guide you to the right places.”

Archdiocesan Marian Conferences used to be an annual event, with thousands attending in the 1980s and 1990s, but have recently slipped out of practice. Conference director Ethelyn David plans to make Marian Conferences annual again.

She hopes after this year’s conference, “everybody loves Mama Mary that much more. She is like our Mama. She was here the whole time.”

David plans to involve youth and young adults more at the next Marian Conference, May 25, 2019. Plans to host a conference in 2020 are also under way.

Father Bill Halbing, conference speaker and a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark.