June 23, 2017

New archbishop’s mentors reveal his heartfelt regard for women, families and humble leaders of faith

Archbishop–designate Charles C. Thompson of Indianapolis talks with Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, during a break at the spring meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Indianapolis on June 14. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Archbishop–designate Charles C. Thompson of Indianapolis talks with Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, during a break at the spring meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Indianapolis on June 14. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

Second of two parts

To get a glimpse into the heart of Archbishop-designate Charles C. Thompson, listen to the way he talks about two of the most special people in his life.

(See all related stories, photos and videos here)

The first person is his maternal grandmother—who comes to his mind immediately when he talks about the importance of women in the life of the Church.

“My maternal grandmother was very much the matriarch of the family. And she was such a gentle woman,” he says. “She was admired by everyone in the town and the county. So I grew up with the sense of how important that woman was to the family, to the life of our relationships.

“I think that without even realizing it very early on, I was given that sense of deep regard for what women bring to faith and to leadership and to family—and to every aspect of our lives.”

As the archbishop-designate talks about his maternal grandmother, his eyes glow.

He has a similar look when he talks about Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein—a mentor he has admired since their lives connected when he was being formed for the priesthood in the 1980s at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad, a mentor that Archbishop-designate Thompson has continued to visit at Saint Meinrad as the retired archbishop faces the continuing effects of stroke and cancer while living in the monastic infirmary.

“Being archbishop of Indianapolis in and of itself is just overwhelming, but then to know I’m following in such footsteps,” he says. “Archbishop Daniel and Cardinal [Joseph W.] Tobin—what great models for me and what great leadership they have provided.

“With Archbishop Daniel, he’s only 50 minutes away from me [while he has been bishop of the Evansville Diocese]. Every so many weeks, I try to visit with him. Even in his suffering, he still has a wonderful spirit—very humble, prayerful. He’s embraced his suffering. Talk about humility and courage. It’s just incredible. He’s such a witness to me. He still inspires me.”

The influence of these two mentors came to light during an extensive interview with Archbishop-designate Thompson. So did his thoughts on the importance of women in the Church, the emphasis on vocations, the influence of Pope Francis, the difference that running makes in his life, and his whirlwind schedule leading up to his installation as the new archbishop on July 28 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

Here is an edited version of the second part of his conversation with The Criterion, a conversation that took place on June 13, the day when it was announced that the 56-year-old bishop of Evansville would be the next archbishop of Indianapolis. (See a video of this conversation)

Q. Talk about the importance of women in the life of the Church.

A. “Most people I’ve worked with over my now 30 years of priesthood have been women. Most of my staff members have been women. Most people on the councils have been women. Women bring a whole different tone or witness to any different group or any different situation. That’s necessary. That’s so important.”

Q. Pope Francis keeps calling Catholics to reach out to people on the margins of society. Talk about that emphasis for you—and how it will shape your approach in the archdiocese, especially in the area of fighting poverty, which has been a particular emphasis of Indiana bishops in recent years.

A. “You mentioned the Indiana bishops’ 2015 pastoral letter, ‘Poverty at the Crossroads: The Church’s Response to Poverty in Indiana.’ In that document, we named four areas we wanted to focus on in trying to alleviate some of the causes of poverty. That was education, family, health care and employment—and maintaining those focuses so that we lift up people who are not only unemployed but underemployed.

“When Jesus asks, ‘What is the greatest commandment?’ he says, ‘Love God with all your heart.’ Second is. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Pope Francis is telling us to go to the margins and the peripheries. If we go to the margins and the peripheries, then we touch everyone in between. It means leaving nobody behind.”

Q. You were formed for the priesthood at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology, and later taught courses there on canon law. The archdiocese also has Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary. How do you see these seminaries as an important part of the life of the archdiocese, and how do you see your role as archbishop in contributing to the formation of priests?

A. “We certainly have to have leaders for the Church. Both Bruté Seminary and Saint Meinrad Seminary do a great job in forming and educating. I know Saint Meinrad has a reputation not only in the country, but around the world for its formation and education, especially its formation. And Bishop Bruté Seminary is doing a great job as well. Not only ordained leadership, but lay leadership.

“One thing about Simon Bruté Seminary is the connection with Marian University. Just talking with our guys who have been there from the Diocese of Evansville, they interact with the other young people, and they’re just great to have on campus—these young men who are striving to dedicate their lives to ordained service in the Church. And they learn from the lay people, and hopefully that’s a wonderful engagement.”

Q. You have had a lot of experiences and opportunities to serve in the southern part of Indiana. How will that experience serve you in an archdiocese that is so geographically large?

A. “You know, people are people wherever you go. I’ve never been in a place where there’s not wonderful people. I’ve probably not been in a place where there are not some challenges, too. That’s part of it, too.

“I’ve lived in the rural, I’ve lived in the suburbs, I’ve done ministry in the inner‑city as well as the suburbs as well as rural. So I’ve had a little bit of everything. In my experience as a pastor and as a bishop, it’s amazing to me that in a crisis what rises to the top is the faith—the incredible faith of people. There’s love for the Church and Jesus Christ.”

Q. The religious communities in the archdiocese have played a vital role in the lives of Catholics throughout the history of the archdiocese, including the life and ministry of St. Mother Theodore Guérin, Indiana’s first saint. How do you foresee yourself encouraging the life of these communities?

A. “I was trained by Benedictine monks at Saint Meinrad. The Benedictines gave me a wonderful foundation of prayer and regard for the liturgy. So I’m greatly indebted to the Benedictine influence there. And I was taught by Ursuline sisters from Mount St. Joseph in western Kentucky.

“Each religious community has their charism. And those charisms are so important to the life of the Church.”

Q. You run about four miles a day, and you enjoy horseback riding. Talk about those hobbies and other interests in your life that would give people a sense of who you are and what you enjoy.

A. “I’ve been running all my life. I ran track and cross country in high school and college. Running is a matter of releasing stress. It’s just a good way to let things go. I tell people I run for the people around me. If things are weighing on me or causing me stress, I can run four miles, and if I run long enough and hard enough, the problem is still there, but I have a different perspective and a whole different place with it. I try to run at least five days a week. I don’t know what will happen here. We’ll see. It’s always just been a good release valve for me.”

Q. Anything you’re reading now that appeals to you, or any specific book or books that appeal to you?

A. “I am so horrible with titles and names of authors. I have an accounting background. You give me your phone number, and I’ll remember it six years from now. I’ve read a lot of Pope Francis’ books, as I did with Pope Benedict XVI and John Paul II. I’m reading a book now on the Medici family. My patron saint is Charles Borromeo, who is part of that Medici family.”

Q. What will you be doing between now and your installation as archbishop on July 28?

A. “Praying. Running. Saying goodbye to people in Evansville. I ordain the permanent deacons on June 24 here. And then the next day, I fly to Rome for the blessing of the pallium. Come back here on the first of July. I’ll have until the eighth of July in Evansville. Then on the ninth, my brother and sister-in-law and I are going out west, retracing a family trip that we did when my brother and I were kids—as a whole family. We’ve been talking for years about retracing this. We’ll come back on the 23rd, and then I’ll come here to live.”

Q. Where will you be going on the trip out west?

A. We went all the way out to Yellowstone when we were kids. We’re going to do some stuff in St. Louis—a ballgame, the cathedral and Grant Farms. Then go out west through South Dakota and the Badlands and Mount Rushmore. And there’s an outdoor Passion Play along the way. Then all through Montana and Wyoming. All the way out to Yellowstone and through Jackson Hole, and come back to Cheyenne for a day or two.”

Q. Anything that you haven’t had the opportunity to touch upon that you’d like to share?

A. “I just need prayers. Pray for me that I’m first and foremost the one who listens to the Holy Spirit. And if I can’t listen to the Spirit, that I’ll at least know how to get out of the way of the Spirit, for the sake of the people I serve.

“I plead for prayers—and patience. I assure you I will make mistakes, and hopefully I’ll have the ability to recognize them at some point, reconcile them and move forward. I’m happy to be here. As much as I grieve leaving so many wonderful people, I know that I’m being embraced here by so many wonderful people, too. It’s just a joy to be with you.”

(The first part of the interview with Archbishop-designate Thompson appeared in the June 16 issue of The Criterion. A video of the full interview with him is available here.)

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