Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Up, Chuck: Louisville VG Off to Evansville

OK, Hoosiers -- after months of fevered expectation over a combined four nods, suffice it to say, you can relax now.

Two weeks after Fr Chuck Thompson’s 50th birthday was marked with a “blowout” surprise party given by his family and friends, a slightly-belated gift has come his way....

From Rome.

At Vatican Noon, B16 dispatched the cleric (left) -- currently doing triple-duty as vicar-general of the archdiocese of Louisville, pastor of Holy Trinity parish there and chaplain to a local high school -- across the Ohio River as bishop of Evansville, succeeding Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger, who's been the 90,000-member diocese's "servant leader" since 1989, and reached the retirement age of 75 last October.

The newly-emeritus prelate marks his golden jubilee of priesthood on 7 May. In a significant generational shift, however, his successor won't see his quarter-century of ordination for another 13 months hence.

Described by friends as a “down-to-earth,” “tremendously kind, generous" person, "pastoral canonist” -- and, above all, “a man of the Eucharist” -- the bishop-elect is the second Louisvillean to be called to the high-hat in the last 15 months, following Bishop Bill Medley of Owensboro, who was sent to the Western Kentucky church early last year, but only after Thompson’s name dominated the early conversations for the O'boro chair.

For purposes of context, the last time a Louisville priest had been elevated to the episcopacy before Medley came in... 1988.

A protege of his hometown’s retired Archbishop Thomas Kelly OP (who lives with the nominee at Holy Trinity's rectory), the alum of Evansville-adjacent St Meinrad’s and advanced studies in the canons at St Paul’s in Ottawa had been serving as Louisville’s lead tribunal hand until being named vicar-general by Archbishop Joseph Kurtz shortly after the latter’s 2007 arrival. Last December, the now-USCCB vice-president named Thompson as rector of the Cathedral of the Assumption, albeit with the appointment not effective until June. Ergo, with the bishop-elect's successor at Holy Trinity already named, Kurtz suddenly finds himself short a #2 and cathedral rector at home.

As Thompson's biography goes, we have a rare treat -- the bishop-elect’s vocation story, in his own words, taken from a post on the Louville church’s website....
I have always attributed a great part of my vocation as a priest to the deep Catholic roots of my family. My parents were born, raised and married in Marion County, which boasts the highest percentage of Catholics per population of any county in Kentucky (53%). Both of my parents are products of large Catholic families. Not surprisingly, given the fact that I have ninety first cousins, one of my cousins is also a priest in Louisville. I was born in Louisville, but spent the better part of my grade school years in Marion County, where I also made my First Communion at St. Joseph Church. We moved back to Louisville when I was approximately eleven years old.

As a child, I was always intrigued by the life of a priest. In middle school, I began to be more aware of social justice issues. As I got older, I began to ask myself how my life could make a difference in the lives of others. Since I had always gone to Mass with my family, the notion of being a priest came to mind as one answer to my question. While I would consider the idea of priesthood from time to time, I played sports and dated in high school and college. After graduating high school in 1979, I attended Bellarmine College with a goal of obtaining a degree in Accounting and then going to law school. However, during college I began to give more thought to the priesthood. I graduated Bellarmine in May 1983 and entered Saint Meinrad School of Theology the following August.

Looking back, while I did not think about it during my years of high school and college, spirituality has always been a very important aspect of my life. The need for prayer and solitude has always been vital to any sense of happiness in my life. While growing up, my family attended Mass each Sunday and prayed the rosary each night. But I especially enjoyed being outdoors, particularly in the country, taking walks in the fields and just reflecting. My seminary experience at Saint Meinrad instilled in me an even deeper appreciation for prayer, both communally and personally.

I was ordained a priest in May 1987. After serving as Associate Pastor to St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral in Bardstown for three years, I was sent to St. Paul University, in Ottawa, for studies in Canon Law. I obtained my licentiate, a master's degree, in May 1992. I believe that my studies in canon law actually enhanced my own pastoral ministry and service as a priest. Since that time, I have served in various archdiocesan and parish capacities. I currently serve as Pastor to Holy Trinity Parish in Louisville while teaching canon law at Saint Meinrad and providing other canonical services.

My spirituality continues to be nurtured by the celebration of the Eucharist, reflection on Scripture, daily prayer, regular spiritual direction and my monthly priest support group. I try to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation every six weeks. The Eucharist is clearly the center of my life, ministry and service. This is clearly the focus of my intimacy with Jesus Christ, which gives purpose and meaning to all I am about as a priest and a Catholic Christian person. As such, I have found great satisfaction in practically every facet of ministry as a priest.
A close friend of his onetime seminary rector, now his metropolitan, Indianapolis' Archbishop Daniel Buechlein OSB, the bishop-elect must be ordained and installed within four months of this morning's appointment.

That said, a June ordination date has already been floated -- and given their bond, the recently stroke-ridden (and still-recovering) Indy prelate is expected to be in sufficient shape to do the honors as principal consecrator.

Indeed, he'd want nothing less.

With this morning's shift, the top posts of six Stateside Latin churches remain vacant, with another nine awaiting the successors to ordinaries who've passed the retirement age and submitted their "walking papers" to the Holy See.