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This article was published 23/1/2016 (1390 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Rev. Cathy Campbell may have left the building, but her presence lingers on in every corner of a once-cavernous West End church.
Although the priest of St. Matthew's Anglican Church retires this month after 13 years in ministry in Winnipeg, her influence continues in the hallways and 26 affordable apartments of WestEnd Commons, the new name of the brick edifice at the corner of St. Matthews Avenue and Maryland Street.
"I do think this story of St. Matthew's has inspired so many others," says architect Marten Duhoux of ft3 Architecture Landscape Interior Design, which designed the apartments and common space inside the former church.
"I think the legacy she has left goes far beyond St. Matthew's."
The building also includes a 2,000-square-foot ground-floor chapel, incorporating some of the architectural features and stained glass of the original 12,500-sq.-ft. sanctuary.
Completed in 2014 after nearly a decade of planning, lobbying and fundraising, WestEnd Commons grew out of Campbell's passion for social justice and her academic research in food policy.
"It seemed that the building was a mess and for the parish to continue and the mission to thrive, we needed to address the building, the elephant in the room," the Winnipeg-born Campbell says of the church's situation when she returned to the city in 2003.
Raised in the United Church of Canada, Campbell left the church as a young adult and pursued a career in academia, earning a PhD in food policy from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and going on to teach at Cornell and University of Toronto.
She quit academic life and returned to Canada to study for the Anglican priesthood, convinced she could combine her interest in food justice with Christian ministry.
"The reason people are without food is (due to) how we value human relationships. The church is one of those places that values community," says Campbell, who was ordained to the priesthood in 1995.
"I had a sense of calling and I thought it was time to get about it."
After several postings in Vancouver, including one at St. George's Anglican, where she worked with the congregation to build housing for people with disabilities on the site of the former church, Campbell took a break to write a book, Stations of the Banquet, before accepting the job at St. Matthew's.
"I came for the mission work in the neighbourhood," Campbell says of the church's long history of serving people in the West End.
Faced with a lack of affordable housing in the neighbourhood, she convinced her small congregation the best way to survive was to transform their aging building, once Winnipeg's largest Anglican church — into apartments.
With that vision — and considerable experience in writing grants — she assembled a team and cobbled together an impressive $7.5 million from various levels of government and private donors to pay for the extensive renovation.
"I don't think WestEnd Commons would have happened without Cathy Campbell," says longtime friend Rev. Jennifer Sisson of the Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd.
"I'm sure many times the project would have faltered without her," adds church member Marilyn Boyd, who organized Campbell's retirement dinner last weekend.
"She had the drive and the faith that it was God's will that it would happen."
Her vision and compassion are contagious, prompting other congregations to consider how they might use their buildings in another way, says Rev. Diane Guilford, formerly of St. Stephen's Anglican.
"She's a visionary and that should be the role of the priest and pastor," says Guilford, now serving a small parish in Morden.
"She comes with a great deal of passion, passion for justice, passion for the homeless."
As she retires from full-time work, Campbell plans to redirect that passion to raising funds for a women's resource centre in Bor, South Sudan, a joint project of St. Matthew's and Emmanuel Mission, one of the five congregations that worships in WestEnd Commons.
She also plans to just sit and contemplate nature from her riverfront home in Wolseley, and maybe write another book.
Although the people of St. Matthew's will miss her, they also celebrate the energy and leadership Campbell brought to their struggling inner-city church.
"We weren't sure what we were getting (with Cathy) but we got more than we expected," says Boyd, who grew up in the congregation.
"It's hard to believe she won't be there next Sunday."
Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.
The Free Press acknowledges the financial support it receives from members of the city’s faith community, which makes our coverage of religion possible.
Updated on Saturday, January 23, 2016 at 10:49 AM CST: Adds picture.