The Bishop is a man of his people. Bishop David B. Thompson could have stayed in Charleston, said his farewell Mass at the Cathedral and then retired. Instead, he chose to visit different cities in the diocese and say his good-byes to his people at their home parishes.
In the Pee Dee Deanery, Bishop Thompson celebrated Mass at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in North Myrtle Beach on Oct. 11, on Oct. 18 at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Simpsonville for the Piedmont Deanery, and for the Midlands Deanery in Columbia at St. Peter’s Church on Oct. 25.
The final celebration will take place at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston for the Coastal Deanery this Sunday, Nov. 1.
The following is an overview of the celebrations that have taken place so far.
“It’s very human thing to be grateful … that’s one thing that humans do that is unique,” Bishop Thompson told the congregation assembled at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in North Myrtle Beach on Oct. 13. “It’s also very human to laugh and to pray, and I want to do all of those today. In all of my humanity, I want to thank all of you today. This day is not so much about me as it is about you.”
Priests from around the Pee Dee were on hand to concelebrate the Mass, including Msgr. Thomas Duffy, pastor of St. Michael’s Church in Garden City and dean of the Pee Dee Deanery; Msgr. Joseph Roth, pastor of St. Andrew Church in Myrtle Beach; and Father George Moynihan, pastor of Our Lady Star of the Sea.
The Bishop talked about the relation of the relatively small Catholic population in South Carolina to other faiths.
“Even though we’ve grown, we’re still only 3 percent of the state’s population, but we are a powerful church — we’re powerful with God’s grace,” Bishop Thompson said.
He also addressed his role in the church’s ecumenical movement.
“People had asked if I was very ecumenical, and I said that when you’re only 3 percent of the population, you’d better be,” the Bishop said with a laugh. “We know how to get along with other Christian faiths, and we also worked to join with the Jewish community, because, after all, one of ours was one of theirs — Jesus Christ.”
Bishop Thompson also addressed one of his other biggest accomplishments — the Synod of Charleston, which started in 1992 and ended in 1995.
At the end of his homily, the Bishop told the large crowd gathered for the Mass that he would pray over the selection of the next leader of the Catholic faith in South Carolina.
“I’m going to ask God to send you not only the bishop you want, but the one you need,” he said.
Bishop Thompson said farewell to the Upstate on Oct. 18. He celebrated Mass at St. Mary Magdalene in Simpsonville with concelebrants Jesuit Father Herbert K. Conner, pastor of St. Mary Magdalene, and Msgr. Charles J. Baum, pastor emeritus of St. Mary in Greenville.
The Bishop stressed the importance of prayer. He encouraged all to persevere in prayers as conveyed in Sunday’s Gospel reading of Luke 18:1-8, the story of the widow who would not leave the corrupt judge alone until he came to her assistance. He reminded attendees that faith has many special prayers. The Our Father, which was composed by Jesus himself, and the rosary which defines Catholics. He encouraged listeners to say the Act of Contrition every night as “a dress rehearsal for our own deaths.” He explained meditative prayer as listening and letting God do the talking.
Bishop Thompson outlined his coming report to the apostolic nuncio on his top five priorities for the Diocese of Charleston.
First, he wants to see the work of the Synod progress and asked for prayers that enthusiasm for the faith will continue.
Second, the Catholic population of South Carolina has grown, but the number of vocations has not. Right now, at least 12 parishes in the state have no resident priest. The Bishop asked attendees to pray for more vocations and for appreciation of the “priesthood of the baptized,” the work of the laity.
Third, there are 116,000 registered Catholics in the diocese and more than 150,000 people of Hispanic descent in South Carolina. The church must provide for the growing Hispanic population, a group that is culturally Catholic. Catholics need to welcome them and celebrate the gifts they bring.
Fourth, the Catholic Church in South Carolina needs to evangelize. One-third of the state’s population is African-American, but only 7 percent of African-Americans are Catholic. A second, surprising statistic is that 50 percent of the population of South Carolina is unchurched. Evangelism is the number one priority of Pope John Paul II.
Fifth, South Carolina will eventually need a second diocese, which would probably be headquartered in the Piedmont. The bishop stressed that the church looks on this process as “the creation of a new diocese, not a division.” Creation of a second diocese is, however, a long-term process because of the logistics and costs involved. The Diocese of Charleston covers a lot of geographic area, but it is strong, viable and financially sound. To create a second diocese now would result in two financially weak dioceses. South Carolina Catholics do not yet have the wherewithal to support two dioceses in the Palmetto state, he said.
Bishop Thompson expressed his gratitude to his fellow priests, religious and the laity for the love and support they have shown him. His only request now is for prayers: “Look upon my soul, and pray for me.”
The Bishop said he is not rushing into retirement, but neither is he fighting it. He said he is “going to relax,” but his retirement will be far from idle. He has quite a list of things he wants to do. He hopes to serve as a judge on the Tribunal with the permission of his successor. He wants to teach the Institute for Parish Leadership Development, and he wants to lead retreats. He also wants to serve as a sacramental priest and relieve other priests as necessary. On a more subdued note, he looks forward to reading spiritual books, biographies, and history and studying canon law.
He also wants to play more golf. When asked about his handicap, he replied, “My handicap is myself.”
In opening remarks, Bishop Thompson reviewed the two previous retirement celebrations in the Pee Dee and the Piedmont, saying, “I go out among you to make sure you feel connected. I care for you. My presence is my biggest gift to you. I want to serve you.”
He said his sentiments at these Masses are one of gratitude, and Bishop Thompson thanked the priests of the diocese “who are out there by themselves working for all of us.” He also singled out for recognition Msgr. Leigh Lehocky, pastor of St. Peter’s, and Father Jeffrey Kendall, associate pastor of St. Joseph Church in Columbia, for their presence at the liturgy.
In a recurring theme, the Bishop thanked those in the congregation for their participation in the Synod.
As the tenure of Bishop Thompson nears an end, he said he perceives a “sense of tranquility in the diocese,” and he urged attendees to “prepare the way of the Lord for the new bishop.”
As part of that effort, he said he will ask for a year of prayer for the new bishop at the start of Advent.
Sheila Ojendyk and Jordan McMorrough contributed to the above article.