July 28, 2017

Saint Meinrad formed archbishop for ordained ministry

Then-Bishop Charles C. Thompson of Evansville, Ind., ritually holds the hands of archdiocesan seminarian Jeffrey Dufresne during an April 22 Mass in which Dufresne was ordained a transitional deacon. The ordination Mass for Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology was celebrated at the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln in St. Meinrad. Archbishop Thompson was a seminarian at Saint Meinrad from 1983-87 and was on its faculty from 2002-2011. (Photo courtesy of Saint Meinrad Archabbey)

Then-Bishop Charles C. Thompson of Evansville, Ind., ritually holds the hands of archdiocesan seminarian Jeffrey Dufresne during an April 22 Mass in which Dufresne was ordained a transitional deacon. The ordination Mass for Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology was celebrated at the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln in St. Meinrad. Archbishop Thompson was a seminarian at Saint Meinrad from 1983-87 and was on its faculty from 2002-2011. (Photo courtesy of Saint Meinrad Archabbey)

By Sean Gallagher

Benedictine Father Harry Hagan remembers the day in 1983 on which Archbishop Charles C. Thompson first arrived at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad as a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky.

He was a “quiet and thoughtful fellow,” and had a “practical, down-to-earth personality,” said the monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey who continues to serve on the seminary faculty. He was dean of students when Archbishop Thompson was a seminarian.

“He brought it to his studies, and I think he took that into parishes, then into the Diocese of Evansville and now to Indianapolis,” said Father Harry.

Priestly formation at Saint Meinrad has played a pivotal role in Archbishop Thompson’s approach to ordained life and ministry. But, as Father Harry explained, that formation was intended to help Archbishop Thompson come to live out ordained ministry within his own identity, not according to a set model or mold.

The seminary’s influence on the broader archdiocese is significant as well. Some 80 percent of archdiocesan priests received at least part of their priestly formation there.

And Saint Meinrad’s president-rector when Archbishop Thompson was a seminarian was then-Benedictine Father Daniel M. Buechlein, who served as archbishop of Indianapolis from 1992-2011. Archbishop Thompson himself taught canon law at Saint Meinrad from 2002-2011.

“They grounded us in appreciating and embracing liturgy,” said Archbishop Thompson of Saint Meinrad’s formation staff. “They gave you that foundation of prayer and spiritual rootedness that flows in and out of everything else that we do—our work, our leisure, our friendships.”

Larry Hoyt of Robertsville, Mo., was a classmate of Archbishop Thompson at Saint Meinrad. He spoke of the integration of prayer and life as a whole that is part of priestly formation there and how this attitude came to life in his friend.

“He made it seem so easy and so natural,” Hoyt said. “That’s what I always wanted in my own life, to have a natural faith rather than something that seemed to be kind of removed from life. He was able to exemplify that in the way he did things.”

The two have remained friends since their days in the seminary. When they visit, Hoyt observes the important place of prayer in Archbishop Thompson that was fostered in the seminary.

“When he gets up in the morning, he gets up very early, but he doesn’t emerge for several hours, because he’s in prayer,” Hoyt said. “When he comes out, he and I will have conversations and I’ll know what he’s been reading or reflecting on. It starts coming out. He spends a lot of time in prayerful reflection every day.”

He was pleased that his friend, whom he calls “Chuck,” was appointed archbishop of Indianapolis, and sees his approach to ordained life and ministry as a bishop as consistent with the formation he received at Saint Meinrad.

“The Spirit is definitely alive in the Church, because Chuck probably exemplifies what Pope Francis is trying to do in the Church today,” Hoyt said. “He wants to enter into the life of people. He wants people to feel a part of the Church. He wants to offer forgiveness, to make the Church something that is hands on.”

Father Harry said that a cornerstone of priestly formation at Saint Meinrad is the goal “to help people be the person that they are, rather than stamping them out of a mold.”

Retired Father Lawrence Richardt has seen the effect of this approach to priestly formation with Archbishop Thompson. The retired archdiocesan priest served as academic dean and vice rector at Saint Meinrad when Archbishop Thompson was a seminarian. He later lived in Huntingburg, Ind., in the Evansville, Ind., Diocese when Archbishop Thompson led the Church in southwestern Indiana.

“You can’t mistake him for anyone else, at least I don’t see that,” said Father Richardt. “He is who he is. He has great self-possession and is confident in that. But he’s willing to submit himself to Jesus’ larger mission.”

After being formed for the priesthood at Saint Meinrad, Archbishop Thompson contributed to the formation there from 2002-2011 by teaching canon law.

Father Robert Robeson, pastor of Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Beech Grove, was one of his students.

“He was outstanding,” said Father Robeson. “He was able to make canon law understandable. The marriage canons are pretty complex. And he had a gift for being able to help you understand them without getting too confused.”

Having served as the rector of Bishop Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis from 2004-14, Father Robeson appreciates how Archbishop Thompson’s approach to formation extended beyond simply teaching a class.

“You could tell he loved being a priest,” Father Robeson said. “He had a great love for the Church. But, also, he was just a very kind and humble guy. He had great knowledge of canon law, but was very patient with those of us who were new to it and trying to understand it.”

Just the fact that Archbishop Thompson agreed to teach at Saint Meinrad impressed Father Harry. At the time, Archbishop Thompson was also serving in the Louisville Archdiocese as a pastor and in its metropolitan tribunal.

“It was kind of a sign of his generosity and his devotion to Saint Meinrad,” said Father Harry, “that he added that to his schedule above and beyond what he was already doing.”

Father Harry was in Indianapolis during the spring meeting of the U.S. bishops held in the days after the June 13 announcement of Archbishop Thompson’s appointment as the next shepherd of the archdiocese. The two, who first met nearly 35 years ago, spoke with each other during the meeting. Father Harry saw signs in him of the priestly formation he received at Saint Meinrad decades before.

“He seemed very much at home with himself and being himself,” said Father Harry. “There’s a nice freedom and spontaneity in him, his ability to laugh, that shows that he has become the person that God called him to be. It’s not that we [at Saint Meinrad] have made him into something. We have given him a place and an education that has allowed that to unfold.”
 

(For more information on Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology, go to www.saintmeinrad.edu.)

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