July 28, 2017

Archbishop keeps running, pushing to a higher level of service

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson, center, posed for a photo with Steve Schulz, left, and Harry Freibert—two of his former teammates from Bellarmine University in Louisville where they ran cross country and track together. The photo was taken three years ago when Schulz and Freibert drove from Louisville to visit their friend, who was then the bishop of Evansville, Ind. (Submitted photo)

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson, center, posed for a photo with Steve Schulz, left, and Harry Freibert—two of his former teammates from Bellarmine University in Louisville where they ran cross country and track together. The photo was taken three years ago when Schulz and Freibert drove from Louisville to visit their friend, who was then the bishop of Evansville, Ind. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

Nearly 35 years have passed, but Steve Schulz still remembers a certain cross-country meet from his college days—especially one moment in the race involving his teammate Charles “Chuck” Thompson.

At the time, Schulz and the future archbishop of Indianapolis were both among the top seven runners for the cross-country team of Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., in the fall of 1982.

“The one thing I remember vividly is from our last year,” Schulz recalls. “I believe it was our conference championship meet. Chuck got progressively better over his years at Bellarmine. At one point in the race, I remember Chuck is moving right past me, just leaving me in the dust.”

What Schulz remembers even more is the kind of person and teammate that the new archbishop of Indianapolis was.

“He was an extremely nice guy,” Schulz says. “He never said anything bad about anyone. He never complained. And he worked really hard every day. He was just dedicated—like everything he does.”

So Schulz isn’t surprised to hear that his college teammate is still running about four miles a day. And he isn’t surprised about Archbishop Thompson’s track record of upward movement in the Church.

“It’s been interesting watching him go up through the ranks,” says Schulz, a Louisville resident who has stayed in touch with Archbishop Thompson during his friend’s time as a priest in the Archdiocese of Louisville and as bishop of the Evansville, Ind., Diocese.

“From a commitment and intelligence level—and with his dedication—it doesn’t surprise me that he would get these opportunities and do an excellent job. He’s a very well-rounded individual.”

Running is no longer the physical outlet for Archbishop Thompson’s competitive fire. Instead, it helps to fuel the energy, the calmness and the direction he brings to people in his spiritual care.

“I’ve been running all my life,” Archbishop Thompson says. “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.”

He tries to run at least five days a week—a commitment he hopes to continue as he leads the Catholic faithful in central and southern Indiana.

There’s little doubt that he will keep the commitment, according to another friend and teammate from his college days.

“I’m glad he’s still running, and he’s able to,” says Harry Freibert, who ran cross country and track at Bellarmine with Archbishop Thompson and still lives in the Louisville area. “He was tough as nails. There was no quit in him.”

Still, their bond extended well beyond the 110-115 miles they would run together each week as part of their training in college. Freibert entered Bellarmine as a freshman when Archbishop Thompson was a junior. Freibert’s voice turns softer as he remembers his friend Chuck as one of the people who “didn’t make me feel as lonely” at the start of that year.

“Our thread runs pretty thick,” Freibert says. “It seems the more we did together, the more we had in common. Chuck and I were from the same blue-collar background of hard work. You get up and put in a good day’s work. We ran track and cross country together. We both qualified for the work-study program to pay for our education—working in the admissions office. And then we both had accounting in common.”

Freibert pauses, laughs and adds, “He’s got a great wit about him, too. We laughed a lot. And I’ve got a lot of great memories that stand out about him.”

The memories include traveling with him to the Catholic stronghold known as “Kentucky’s Holy Land” where the archbishop’s life is rooted.

“We went down and went fishing. And then I met his grandma,” Freibert says. “She had something in the oven that was really good, and she wouldn’t let us go without eating. They were just salt-of-the-earth people.”

There’s also Freibert’s memory of the day he married his wife Anne 30 years ago—and how his friend presided over the wedding.

“I’m one of eight children in a very traditional upbringing,” Freibert says. “Having Chuck preside over our wedding ceremony just meant a lot for our family tradition—and our tradition of family. I think it means even more to me now than it did then.”

So does what his friend did when Freibert’s mother died three years ago—a time when his friend was the bishop of the Evansville Diocese.

“I asked Chuck to pray for her,” Freibert recalls. “He showed up at the funeral home. And it wasn’t a flash-in-the-pan visit. He had another place to go, but he stayed.”

So has their friendship. Freibert and Schulz both try to stay connected with their former teammate, sending him an occasional e-mail and even driving together to visit him when he was leading the Church in southwestern Indiana.

“He’s already told us we have to come to Indianapolis,” Freibert says with a laugh. “I’ve been fortunate to maintain my friendship with him over the years. He’s just a special person.”

He is also a great choice to lead the archdiocese, Freibert insists.

“I just don’t think Chuck knows failure. I don’t think he would have accepted this position if it didn’t scare him a little, challenge him, and push him to a higher level of service. I just think he’s going to do great.

“We knew him when—and he’s never let anyone down since.” †

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