Former principal honored at St. Aloysius

Published 10:00 am Friday, December 16, 2016

St. Aloysius High School has a new name.

No, the school isn’t changing, but the school building is now called the Father Alfred Camp Building  — named after a former principal and the man many say is the reason St. Al is still in Vicksburg today.

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The celebration started Thursday with a special Mass and continued with a dedication ceremony. More than 100 of Camp’s past students and friends attended the services to honor the man who organized the rebuilding of the school after it was lost to fire in February 1977.

“To me it’s a testament to his work here,” Ann Roberson, director of development, said. “So many people came. They wanted to see him and honor him for all his work here.”

One day after the fire, Camp organized seventh and eighth grade students to move into the basement of the elementary school, he said, and all ninth through 12th grade classes were organized in the St. Al gymnasium that was unharmed.

“There was nothing else you could do. We lost a building. If you say we’re closing, that’d be it. We’re going to keep on going and do the best we can with what we got,” Camp said of the fire.

Ash Wednesday that year was about a week after the fire, and Camp used ashes from the school during the service. Camp then spearheaded raising money for the new building, principal Buddy Strickland said.

“He singlehandedly raised the money,” Strickland said. “He did it through force of will.”

Eventually the students were moved to trailers as the new building was built. It took three years to complete, and it was dedicated in 1979. The school building wasn’t named until Thursday.

“This was a long time coming. This should have been done long ago,” said Jimmy Salmon, a former student and teacher at St. Al. “Without Father Camp we wouldn’t be standing here today. He fought for this school. He was involved in every aspect of it.”

Salmon said the fire is thought to have been started by a space heater on the third floor. It happened during the night and the newly renovated roof went up in flames. However, more than the fire itself, St. Al suffered from water and smoke damage.

At the time the Diocese of Jackson was not interested in rebuilding the high school and thought just having a Catholic elementary school would be sufficient, Salmon said, but Camp didn’t take no for an answer.

“He was just a firm believer in Catholic education,” Salmon said.

Camp was surprised to see so many people there to support him. Former students, teachers, his family, current local priests and Bishop Joseph Kopacz were all involved in the ceremony sharing their favorite memories of Camp.

“He played a major role in me being a teacher. I learned a lot from Father Camp,” Salmon said.

Camp served as a teacher, principal and development director in Vicksburg for more than 20 years. He is now retired, lives in Madison and is involved at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church.