Bishop David Thompson (1923-2013): Priest, Twin, Sheen-Fiend

Me and the Thompsons

Please say a prayer for the repose of Bishop Emeritus David Thompson (Charleston, SC) who just died unexpectedly. Bishop David was a good friend, and the twin brother of my long-time spiritual director, Msgr. Ed Thompson. The brothers just celebrated their 90th birthday.

Also, especially for my St. Mary Magdalen friends, please pray for Msgr. Ed. I can’t imagine how difficult this must be–losing your twin brother, best friend, and closest confidant.

Bishop David was extremely close to USCCB-President elect, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, too. The two went to seminary together and afterward lived together, as priests, for twelve years.

In memorium, I’ll share two great stories that Bishop David loved to tell–one from the beginning of his priesthood and the other near its end. First, while David and Ed were in seminary, they were huge devotees of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. They absorbed his radio and TV broadcasts, ate up all of his books, and even described themselves as “Sheen-fiends”. One day, the two drove to New York and sat in the audience for one of Sheen’s broadcasts. After the show, they approached Archbishop Sheen, dressed in their cassocks. When Sheen saw them his eyes beamed open and he noted, with increasing volume: “Seminarians! Future-priests! TWINS!” He then embraced the two boys with a big hug, pulled back, and looked them in the eye. Then with his booming voice he offered one bit of advice: “Persevere. Persevere. Persevere.” David obeyed that advice to his final breath, living admirably and joyously his priestly vocation.

The second story comes from Bishop David’s ad limina visit in May 2012. Every few years, the bishops from around the world are summoned to Rome to meet with the Pope, updating him on their dioceses. Even though Bishop David was retired, he still was invited to join the Southeast US contingent and meet with Pope Benedict. The visits are typically fast, and you don’t have much time to converse with the Pope, but as Pope Benedict greeted each bishop down the line, he stopped at Bishop David and said, “So I hear you’re now retired?”

“Yes, Your Holiness,” Bishop David replied.

“And are you enjoying it?”

“Absolutely,” Bishop David answered, “I highly recommend it.”

Fast forward nine months later, and Pope Benedict shocks the world by announcing his own resignation. From then on, with tongue firmly in cheek, Bishop David maintained that he was personally responsible for the Pope’s resignation.

We’ll all miss Bishop David, but we draw comfort knowing he’s entered his glorious reward. Here’s a picture of the three of us. (The brothers are huge Phillies fans, in case you couldn’t tell.)


UPDATE: Reader Tommy McQueeney left this poignant tribute in the comment box:

“I got a call two hours ago from Bishop Thompson’s housekeeper.
I spoke with the Bishop yesterday at about 4:00 to cancel our regular Monday daybreak round of golf at Patriot’s Point.
He said he wouldn’t enjoy golf at 35 degrees, so we decided to wait until next Monday. We chatted more about how cold it was in Philadelphia and how he loved being in Charleston and poking fun at his Philly friends.
The Bishop died in his sleep last night/early this morning.
The housekeeper told me that she called me from a list he had left.
I guess I should feel special, but I feel remorse. I wish I would have visited him one more time. When we played golf Monday last he was not feeling especially well, but he got a par on the 18th hole.
(He always used the better of our two drives.) During the round we talked about heaven. He said that golf in heaven would be boring because every shot would go into the hole.
I countered that God wouldn’t make it like tic-tac-toe where there is a predictable result. There would have to be the joy of a challenge conquered.
After thinking about it, he said that “it would be hard for good golfers and easy for bad ones..”
We both laughed.
We had a coffee in the clubhouse and talked about Bishop John England (and his national importance to Catholicism in the U.S.).
Bishop Thompson was scholarly and quite adept at notating dates and events.
He knew of Bishop England’s departure from Cork and his refusal to grant allegiance both to the Pope AND to the British throne.
That refusal of the British throne was a death sentence at that time in Ireland. So he left and – in doing so – changed the American South. Bishop John England and Bishop David Thompson had that accomplishment in common.
I’ll miss the Bishop’s incredible memory, his knowledge of history, his literary talent, and his timely sense of humor. And his golf on Mondays.
His homilies were never read – but offered, with brevity, insight, and always a laugh from the congregation.
He had the rare ability to meet people that became instant friends. He was a warm and kind man who loved people.
His companionship and mentorship with me especially over the last year inspired me in ways I will carry over the rest of my life.
It was always a true joy as we played golf when Monday came to us…early. He was always there before me, it seemed, and rearing to go. No practice swings, just shots destined for the middle of the fairway. Not far, but straight. I asked him about his omission of practice swings and he said he ‘didn’t want to waste any of the swings he had left.’ And he didn’t.
I will miss this genuine man of God who changed my life is so many ways. May God grant him the early tee time.”