Catholics recall the late retired Bishop Thompson as innovator and shepherd
When the Most Rev. David B. Thompson’s first Christmas as bishop of Charleston approached, someone asked him: “Aren’t you going home?”
Bishop Thompson funeral arrangements
Funeral arrangements include:
Solemn Vespers from the Office of the Dead will be sung in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, 120 Broad St., at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Visitation will begin after Vespers and will conclude at 9 p.m.
The Solemn Mass of Christian Burial will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the cathedral. Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of the Archdiocese of Atlanta will preside. Msgr. James A. Carter, pastor at Christ Our King Catholic Church in Mount Pleasant, will preach the homily.
The Rite of Committal with Final Commendation will follow on the cathedral grounds.
“I am home,” he responded.
Local Roman Catholics last week recalled a leader who loved the Diocese of Charleston and its people.
Thompson, who retired in 1999, died last Sunday at his Mount Pleasant home. He was 90.
Sister Bridget Sullivan was general superior of the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy when Thompson arrived in town nearly 24 years ago. She picked him up for dinner with the nuns because she feared he would get lost trying to find their mother house, May Forest, nestled far down a winding James Island road.
During the drive, Sullivan realized that the newly arrived bishop already knew much about her, including that she’d gone to the University of Notre Dame. (He was founding principal of Notre Dame High School.)
“He did his homework,” she said, laughing through tears last week mourning the loss of her close friend. “He had a wonderful grasp on people. He could find their gifts and talents, even ones that other people couldn’t see. He was just a really good discerner of people and made everyone feel special.”
Thompson became known as a shepherd who worked to bring diocesan leaders closer to parishioners. Msgr. James Carter, pastor of Christ Our King, where Thompson said his last Mass a week ago, called Thompson “an innovator.”
Among other things, Thompson elevated women laity and nuns by installing women religious as pastoral administrators at more than a dozen parishes across the statewide diocese.
“He truly honored the women religious and put them in positions in the diocese that they hadn’t been in before,” Sullivan recalled. “He saw their talents.”
He became a “very dear and special friend” to the nuns and placed special value on their ministries to the poor, said Sister Mary Joseph Ritter, the James Island convent’s current general superior.
“He was a real shepherd in the church,” Ritter said. “He was a gentle man — and a gentleman.”
The 11th bishop, Thompson served from 1990 to 1999 and retired at age 76, allowing more time for his favorite hobby, golf.
The Post and Courier asked several of his friends to share memories of the man:
We in the Diocese of Charleston have lost a good friend, a holy priest and faithful bishop. Bishop David Thompson was an inspiration, not only in his active life as priest and bishop, but also in his 16 years of retirement. Celebrating Mass in Christ Our King parish in Mount Pleasant each weekend, teaching homiletic courses to deacons, conducting retreats and assisting me in celebrating confirmations were all aspects of his generosity in being of service to God’s people and faithful to his vocation.
I am particularly grateful for his warm welcome and support when I first became the bishop of this diocese almost five years ago. He made my transition to my new ministry quite smooth. I will miss him as a brother bishop and a friend. May he rest in peace.
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone
Bishop Thompson brought in a Renaissance of kind and loving Catholicism to the Diocese of Charleston in the 1990s. He was an enabling leader who, with his dynamic team of Sam Miglarese, Gregory West, Dennis Willey, Sister Bridget Sullivan, Dennis Atwood and so many more, reminded us (and this youth who was questioning certain Catholic doctrines that were learned but not yet understood) that God truly is Love. And Bishop Thompson’s Love was truly manifest in all his relationships with us.
My relationship with him took us frequently to the golf course — as recently as last Wednesday — where I called him “the Bruiser” because he could “Bruise” the ball right up the fairway just like his golf mentor and best friend, Bobby Molony.
Bishop Thompson always had a twinkle in his eyes and, if encouraged, would humbly “take credit” for Pope Benedict’s decision to retire earlier this year. During Bishop Thompson’s Papal visit with Bishop Gugliemone in 2012, when Bishop Thompson approached the Pope, he told Pope Benedict that he was the retired Bishop of Charleston and highly recommended it. Not too many months later, the Pope made the monumental decision to retire — which hadn’t occurred in almost 600 years!
Bratton Riley, vice president of business development, Maybank Industries
Bishop Thompson was a wise and skilled leader and a great communicator. Shortly after he became Bishop of Charleston, he convened the first Synod of Charleston, inviting representatives of every Catholic parish and mission in South Carolina to share their perspective on virtually everything under the sun. He set the tone by saying, “We’re not here to change the Church’s rule on women serving as priests. Everything else in this diocese is open for discussion.” In that single statement he endeared himself to the faithful. He also made good on his promise to keep an open mind and broke new ground in many areas, including greater lay involvement in the work of the diocese.
I was privileged to be one of those parish Synod representatives and eventually served as the first lay person on his Clergy Personnel Advisory Committee. As our friendship grew, he shared much of the wisdom he had gained through the years. He would constantly encourage me and others to “keep up the good work,” an example that has impacted me deeply. He always made time to connect with others, instantly putting them at ease, and he derived great joy from serving them. For someone responsible for so many and so much, he led with a style and grace rarely found in our hurry and worry culture. He remained generous with his time throughout retirement and showed me how to grow in years and distinction without growing old.
John Carroll, Mount Pleasant businessman and president of Unlimited Performance Inc.
One of my life’s greatest rewards was when Bishop Thompson made a statement that two Henrys helped him get started in Charleston. One was Henry Tecklenburg, and one was Henry Berlin. When he didn’t play golf, which wasn’t often, he would have breakfast with us on Friday mornings. And when he got tired of being at the cathedral, I invited him over to our synagogue, Brith Sholom.
I don’t know of any person I had more respect for, and enjoyed being a friend to, more than him. I’m 89 years old, and I don’t know anyone in my lifetime that I respected more than him.
Henry Berlin, Charleston retailer
Shortly after Bishop Thompson was appointed the Bishop of Charleston, he decided to appoint a chief financial officer for the diocese. I was the fortunate person selected to fill the position. This opportunity changed my life for the better.
Bishop Thompson was able to bring a positive change to the Catholic Community of South Carolina. The Bishop’s first priority was to listen to the faithful which he accomplished by traveling throughout the state. His pastoral answer to what he heard was to initiate a synod, which is no easy task and rarely done on a diocesan level. He reignited the energy among Catholics in South Carolina with “Our Heritage, Our Hope,” which summarized the synod.
Bishop Thompson was also a risk taker when he deemed it appropriate. The Bishop approved the sale of Bishop England High School’s downtown location and construction of its current site on Daniel Island. At that time Daniel Island really had no infrastructure. Few people will argue the wisdom of that decision.
After his retirement, the Bishop and I remained close friends. He loved sports and was an avid golfer. We played many a round together which for me was special time with a special person. Baseball and the Phillies were a love of his. He was already planning his annual trek to spring training with his twin brother Eddie.
Bishop Thompson was a great person, priest, boss and a truly great friend. I will miss him dearly. God bless Bishop Thompson!
Dennis Atwood, retired chief financial officer for the Diocese of Charleston
Bishop Thompson, fondly referred to as Bishop Tee, played golf up to four days a week, and as good fortune on my part would have it, over eight years ago I was invited to join his golf group.
Most people don’t know that Bishop Thompson was a very good athlete and played both football and baseball with his identical twin brother as a young man. After entering the seminary, he found a passion for golf when he was introduced to the sport by his bishop, Bishop McShae, while living in Philadelphia. Bishop McShae made arrangements for the young Fr. Thompson and two other young priests to have access to some of Philly’s best courses. The bug bit, and upon his arrival in Charleston in the late ’80s, Bishop Tee found the weather conducive to golfing year-round.
Upon his retirement, and to make the game fun for everyone that he played with, Bishop Tee established “The Bishop’s Three Rules of Golf.”
Rule 1: If you hit a bad shot, “Saint Mulligan” grants a free second shot — and another if your second shot is errant as well.
Rule 2: If your shot lands in a bunker, sand trap or you just have a bad lie, you are allowed to use the “foot wedge” to put the ball in a more favorable position.
Rule 3 (the most important rule): You must have fun when playing with the Bishop.
Note: We always had fun. And if you are wondering how good the Bishop played, he shot below his age and had a hole in one.
Bishop Tee, we will see you on the back nine.
Rick Cooper, vice president, Southeastern Galleries
I had the privilege of knowing Bishop David Thompson when he arrived in South Carolina and was ordained Coadjutor Bishop of Charleston. He would have celebrated his 25th year as an ordained bishop in 2014.
He shepherded his people with love, but with a firm resolve. He renewed our Catholic faith and hope. An example of his stewardship and vision was the establishment of Charleston Catholic School, the only Catholic school remaining on the Charleston peninsula. He insisted that any diocesan school satisfy the following four criteria: authentically Catholic; fiscally sound; accepted by the community; and academically excellent.
He appointed me general counsel for the diocese in 1997 and sought my legal advice initially in matters of sex abuse and diocesan personnel misconduct claims. He would convene his inner-circle of advisers and we would present our opinions on a particular issue. He would often say that he had big ears and would listen intently to our input, but at the end of those discussions, he would announce his decision, which we would execute faithfully. He had a gift of bringing us all together even though we may have expressed different sentiments.
Bishop Thompson adopted one of the first policies in the country to address allegations of sexual abuse of minors by church personnel in 1994. This early policy ensured a protocol be followed when responding to a claim, but, more importantly, that victims be treated with compassion, dignity and respect.
As my friend, Bishop Thompson recognized the local Lebanese community’s contribution to the Catholic Church by sponsoring a banquet in our honor. He arranged for Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, who is of Lebanese decent, to be our keynote speaker. Following the death of my dad, I sought not only his spiritual counsel, but also fatherly advice. The simplicity of his wisdom guided me through rough channels.
Contained in his last will and testament was a request that his grave maker contain the words of St. Paul: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). I pray his legacy live on in those he met, those he ministered to, those he touched and those he inspired.
A. Peter Shahid Jr., general counsel for the Diocese of Charleston