In retirement, Bishop Thompson encourages vocations

Bishop Emeritus David B. Thompson

Bishop Emeritus David B. ThompsonMOUNT PLEASANT—Bishop Emeritus David B. Thompson served the Diocese of Charleston from 1990 to 1999 before retiring at age 76.

In his 49 years as a priest, and the 10 that he has been retired, Bishop Thompson has encouraged vocations through his words and actions.

He said the first thing parents should do is support their child’s interest in vocations.

“I ask them not to get in the way of the Lord,” he said.

When the bishop was growing up in Pennsylvania, the priesthood was an exalted and honorable career, he said, and both he and his twin brother, now Msgr. Edward J. Thompson, followed that path.

Since then, the priesthood has been supplanted by many worldly careers, the bishop said, and thus familial support for vocations is crucial.

He encourages parents to promote a religious atmosphere at home and talk about religious life as an ideal, a blessing upon their family. He said they should also openly discuss matters of the parish, diocese and universal church with their children.

“It should be a topic that is part and parcel of their life,” Bishop Thompson said, adding that he can vouch from experience that serving in the priesthood is a great blessing.

Looking back upon his life, he said he is most proud, and grateful, that he was given the gift of faith, and had a wonderful, thoroughly Catholic family where priests were held in the highest esteem.

He spoke warmly of Catholic school, seminary and the various appointments he held as a priest. “They’ve all been a blessing. Some of them were a challenge, but they turned out to be a blessing.”

His appointment as bishop is still an awe-inspiring event. “What an honor to be chosen by God through the church,” he said, and to be the successor to Bishop John England, founder of the diocese and the first American Catholic newspaper.

Of all the people who helped mold and shape him, Bishop Thompson said the greatest to grace his life was Bishop Joseph McShea of Allentown, Pa., with whom he served for 38 years.

“He was a truly inspiring man,” Bishop Thompson said.

It was during his years in Pennsylvania that he ascended through the ranks of the church.

In the 1950s, he taught and served as a guidance counselor at St. Thomas More High School, and was the founding principal of Notre Dame High School, where he earned the nickname “Father Bandstand” for creating a rockin’ social event for students similar to “American Bandstand.”    

The bishop earned many titles, awards and accolades in his home state, including the De Sales Medal from the Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales. Then, on April 22, 1989, Pope John Paul II appointed him the successor to Bishop Ernest L. Unterkoefler, and Bishop Thompson came south.

After his retirement, the bishop decided to remain in Charleston because he had made wonderful friends, and succumbed to the charm of the area.

“Where do you get climate like this?” he asked. “And the ambience is so wonderful. It’s so peaceful.”

Besides, Bishop Thompson said, he could not play golf 12 months of the year in Pennsylvania.

Golf is one of his other passions, and he said it is a parallel to life, with rough ways, smooth paths, traps, obstacles and a call for honesty.

“I think it’s the Lord’s game. It has 18 holes, so it’s holy,” he joked. “It even has an Amen Corner.”

Aside from golf, the bishop has many other interests which keep him busy.

“First of all, I say my prayers. Second, I keep studying. We’re never too old to learn,” he said. Bishop Thompson said he is grateful for his retirement because it has allowed him the time for extensive reading of the Scripture and he has developed an especially keen grasp of the Old Testament.

“You can’t get any better reading—the word of the Lord,” he said.

Bishop Thompson also serves as a judge on the diocesan Office of Tribunal, offers days of recollection, retreats, and talks to religious groups.

For the past 10 years, he has served in weekend ministry at Christ Our King Church and said he enjoys working with Msgr. James A. Carter, pastor.

One thing he urges Catholics to do is to take their values, their faith, and the truth of the Gospel into the world and be caring of their neighbors. “Don’t leave it in church,” he said.