The Diocese of Allentown joins the Diocese of Charleston in mourning the loss, but celebrating the life and ministry, of the Most Reverend David B. Thompson, Bishop Emeritus of Charleston.
He left our diocese in 1989 to become Charleston's Coadjutor Bishop cum iure successionis. Because I was in eighth grade, I had no recollections of him. From reading his obituary I found out that he also attended World Youth Day in 1993, but then again, so did a million other people.
It was only when I was assigned to Holy Guardian Angels in 2008 that I got to meet Bishop Thompson. He was very close to HGA's pastor, Msgr. Hartgen. When Bishop Thompson was named the Rector of our Cathedral in February 1975, Msgr. Hartgen had already been there for over a year as a curate. The two remained together for almost ten years before Msgr. was named the administrator of a parish up in the Slate Belt. That's a long time to be an assistant in any one place. I'm going on six years now at HGA, mirabile dictu.
When the bishop would stay with us in preparation for his annual retreat, which he and Msgr. would make at Spencer Abbey in Massachusetts, it would be the opportunity for several priests of the diocese to join us for dinner and to be regaled with stories of our founding bishop, Joseph McShea, whom Bishop Thompson served as Vicar General for many years. Even at 90 "his eyes were undimmed and his vigor unabated" (Dt 34:7). He could keep us laughing for hours, though he was just as eager to hear from the fellow dinner guests.
It was also the bishop's annual custom to concelebrate the Labor Day Mass before heading up to Spencer. Dozens of parishioners would line up to greet the bishop as if he were our own Ordinary, including the late Joe Bonk, a sacristan of our former mission church in Temple. Each year until his death in 2012, Joe would come back to the sacristy and wait for the bishop to return and unvest.
I was honored that the bishop would take the time to talk to me every year. We sometimes spoke about Latin, a subject that both of us taught on the high school level. We discussed the new translation of the Mass and found ourselves to be of the same mind. He was known to send people books he considered worth reading. He sent me a splendid book, Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin. It's been a good read, so far. Latin may actually change by the time I finish it.
From our short acquaintance I can say this much: Bishop Thompson was a man of the Church, an "impetus of Christ's peace" (his episcopal motto), a clever and insightful preacher, a gracious and thoughtful friend.
Of all priests, Monsignor Hartgen would be most qualified to write a remembrance of Bishop Thompson's life. But he would be one (though an intimate one) of many voices--clerical, religious, and lay--who witnessed his love for the Church and for all people. A festschrift would certainly be in order, as many in Charleston, Allentown, and Philadelphia (he spent eleven years as a Philly priest before our diocese formed in 1961) knew him long and well.
Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. May the Lord reward His son, servant, and bishop +Dave for his earthly labors, and may we join him in God's appointed time and manner!