August 4, 2017

Reflection / Daniel Conway

Mentors of new archbishop offered examples of grace, humility and zeal

My wife, Sharon, and I were privileged to attend the installation of our friend and former pastor, Charles C. Thompson, as the seventh Archbishop of Indianapolis on July 28. It was a joy to be with so many of his family members, friends and colleagues from both sides of the Ohio River for this truly special occasion.

News accounts in The Criterion have told the story of Archbishop Thompson’s formation in faith by his loving parents, his extended family and the Church in central Kentucky. The archbishop elaborated on this formation in his installation homily and remarks at the end of the installation Mass, and he made a special point of paying tribute to his father, Coleman Thompson, making it clear that Mr. Thompson was his first and most important teacher and example of faith, hope and charity.

In his concluding remarks, the archbishop acknowledged the role played by the clergy, religious and faithful people of the Diocese of Evansville, Ind., in his formation as a bishop. He also referenced the many bishops (many present behind the altar for the installation Mass) who have influenced him—and impressed him—over the years by their wisdom and pastoral leadership.

Two important mentors in Archbishop Thompson’s life were not present: the late Archbishop Emeritus of Louisville, Thomas C. Kelly, and Emeritus Archbishop of Indianapolis Daniel M. Buechlein, who was unable to attend due to infirmity. I had the great privilege of working for both of these men, and I know how highly they regarded Archbishop Thompson and how very proud they were, and are, of his service to the Church in Kentucky and Indiana.

Archbishop Kelly was a compassionate man with a keen wit. He rarely spoke or preached without telling a funny story that immediately put his listeners at ease. Archbishop Thompson’s self-deprecating humor reminds me of his friend and mentor Archbishop Kelly. So does his deep care and concern for the needs of all the people he serves.

As the installation Mass proceeded, I couldn’t help but think of Tom Kelly and the many gifts he gave to all of us who knew and loved him. His friend (and former roommate in his retirement years) certainly does Archbishop Kelly proud as he takes on the role as shepherd of the Church in central and southern Indiana.

Archbishop Daniel is a man of prayer who is spending his final years at his monastic home, Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad. From many conversations with him, I know how much he admires Archbishop Thompson. He once said to me, “People think he’s a pushover because he’s a nice guy who smiles a lot. But make no mistake about it, Chuck Thompson can be hard as nails when it’s a matter of principle. He always does what’s right.”

Archbishop Thompson acknowledged his deep disappointment that Archbishop Daniel’s declining health made it impossible for him to travel to Indianapolis for the installation Mass. Surely, he watched it in the monastic infirmary streamed live or televised on EWTN. And I have no doubt that he smiled a lot and shed some tears of joy—especially when Archbishop Thompson assumed the cathedra no italics needed of the archbishop of Indianapolis, Archbishop Daniel’s former chair.

I know from personal experience that Archbishop Kelly and Archbishop Buechlein were powerful mentors. I certainly learned a lot from them, and I imagine that a young priest, and then bishop, if he was paying attention, would have learned from them about how to exercise his responsibilities with grace, humility and a zeal for the things of God.

When they were active archbishops in Kentucky and Indiana, both were flawed human beings who admitted their faults and sought God’s forgiveness and help. I’m quite certain they both taught Father Chuck (as we called him then) by their mistakes as well as by their successes.

Most of all, as active archbishops Tom Kelly and Daniel Buechlein placed their priests and people first, ahead of their own interests and ambitions, in order to serve as Jesus did. To the extent that Archbishop Thompson has learned from them, and follows their example, he will be a great shepherd for the Church in southern and central Indiana!

Archbishop Thompson’s tribute to so many great witnesses—beginning with his parents, Joyce and Coleman—spoke volumes about the man who is the new archbishop of Indianapolis. He is not full of himself. He is filled with the spirit of women and men who formed him in faith and who still point him in the right direction—toward “Christ the Cornerstone.”
 

(Daniel Conway is a member of The Criterion’s editorial committee.)

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