The Most Rev. David B. Thompson, retired Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Charleston, died over the weekend. He was 90 years old.
Thompson was the diocese’s 11th bishop. He served from 1990-1999, and was well regarded by many in the diocese who have praised his pastoral style and friendly manner. Final plans for his funeral have not been made, though the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist on Broad Street will host a Mass for Thompson sometime this week, according to James A. McAlister Funeral Home.
Thompson was cheerful and looked fit when he visited Mayor Joe Riley in the hospital Friday night, Riley said.
“He was one of my closest friends, so it’s very sad, it’s heartbreaking,” Riley said. “He was so healthy, and fit and enjoying this time of his life.”
Thompson was at Christ Our King Catholic Church in Mount Pleasant on Saturday night, celebrating Mass, according to Monsignor James Carter.
A housekeeper found Thompson at his Dunes West home Monday morning, Carter said.
After retiring, Thompson held one weekly Mass at Christ Our King for years. Ever organized, he never used written notes in his homilies and was known for always making three points in each.
“I want to help you be the very best priest you can be,” Carter recalled Thompson often saying. “He was a consummate gentleman, a consummate priest, teacher and friend.”
Carter served as Thompson’s vicar general and vicar for clergy and remembers his longtime colleague as an innovator who worked to keep the church a vital force in the community.
“He was just a lover of people and a good friend,” Carter said.
Under the leadership of the late bishop, the diocese grew its congregations, and sponsored the Palmetto Project Community Relations Forum, a community effort to address racism and advanced the cause of interfaith harmony.
The Bishop was awarded the Tree of Life Award, the Jewish National Fund’s highest honor, for his efforts on behalf of interfaith dialogue. He received the Order of the Palmetto award, the state’s highest civilian honor, in 1999.
He traveled extensively throughout the diocese, which encompasses the entire state, and was known for his pastoral approach.
He took a stance against the Confederate flag over the Statehouse, gambling, abortion and the death penalty. In late 1992, he convened the Synod of Charleston, the first official gathering of clergy and laity in the diocese since 1956.
Thompson retired in 1999, at the age of 76, often engaging in his favorite pastime, golf, while continuing to celebrate confirmations, serve as a judge on the diocesan Office of Tribunal, and assist on weekends at Christ Our King.
Riley said the bishop was an important figure for his family. Thompson gave funeral masses for both of Riley’s parents. After the funeral of his mother, Riley received the bishop’s notes for his homily as a memento.
During Friday’s hospital visit, Thompson was both encouraging and appreciative, chatting comfortably with a good friend, Riley said.
“Then he said I want to pray for you. He put his hands on me. Then he said good-bye. The last thing I said was, ‘I look forward to being on the golf course with you soon.’ ... He was a wonderful shepherd of his flock. He taught Christian values of goodness and joy and love and kindness.”
Father Dennis Willey, pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church and a chaplain at The Citadel, was a seminarian in the early 1990s and taken under the bishop’s wing. Willey was ordained by Thompson and assigned to the Cathedral. For two very happy years, he lived in the bishop’s residence, he said.
“I remember how welcoming and gracious he was to my family when they visited Charleston,” he said. “Parents, siblings, nieces and nephews all were guests at one time or another at the bishop’s residence.” Thompson insisted that “it was my home, too.”
Willey, who was asked to deliver a homily at the bishop’s wake later this week, said he was “honored, and incredibly humbled ... and scared.”
“He was a great gift to the Diocese of Charleston, the city of Charleston and state of South Carolina,” Willy said.
Jennifer Berry Hawes contributed to this report.
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