July 28, 2017

God’s hands and family’s love guide Archbishop Thompson

Then-Father Charles C. Thompson sits on July 1, 1990, with his parents, Coleman and Joyce Thompson, during a Priests’ Parents’ Club meeting in the Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky. (Photo courtesy Father Dale Cieslik)

Then-Father Charles C. Thompson sits on July 1, 1990, with his parents, Coleman and Joyce Thompson, during a Priests’ Parents’ Club meeting in the Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky. (Photo courtesy Father Dale Cieslik)

By John Shaughnessy

Sometimes you can learn a lot about a family by the way a sister talks about a brother.

The closeness between Archbishop Charles C. Thompson and his only sister, Lori Wilson, is evident when she recalls how he has been there for her during defining moments of her life.

She remembers how he helped her when she first tried to ride a horse. And how he taught her to drive when she was 16. And how, when they were adults, he took her with him and sat next to her on her first plane trip—to Hawaii.

“We’ve always been close,” she says. “He’s always been patient with me, and still is. He’s always been there for me. I’m so proud of everything he has accomplished and done in life.”

You can also learn a lot about a family by the relationship that brothers have, especially long after they shared their childhood home.

From July 9 through July 23, Archbishop Thompson, his brother Kenny and Kenny’s wife Sue Ann spent the two weeks together, heading west across the United States to re-create a 4,000-mile trip that the Thompson family made years ago when the two brothers and their sister were still youths.

“We’ve been talking for years about retracing this,” Archbishop Thompson says about him and his brother.

Their recent trip led them to the Badlands and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, through Montana and Wyoming, with stops in Cheyenne, Jackson Hole and Yellowstone National Park.

The shared journeys of two brothers—and of a sister and a brother—reflect the love and the closeness that Archbishop Thompson has for his family, a love and a closeness that is inseparable from their Catholic faith.

“I’m from a very Catholic family,” the 56-year-old archbishop says about growing up in a family in which he has 90 first cousins, the byproduct of his mother being part of a family of 16 children and his father coming from a family of 13 children.

“My parents have just a wonderful ease. They’re very salt-of-the-earth kind of people. They just live their faith day by day. We prayed the rosary every night together. We said grace at all meals. It was just natural. It was almost like breathing for me.”

That’s exactly the focus of faith and family that Coleman and Joyce Thompson strived to help their three children attain. Married now for 57 years, the couple has always kept close to their hearts their own upbringing in an area known as “the Kentucky Holy Land”—a rural, hilly area that’s a Catholic stronghold.

“We grew up in the country, out in Marion County,” says the archbishop’s father. “We all went to church regularly. Our parents raised us to do the right thing, and that’s what we tried to do.”

Joyce Thompson adds, “Our parents influenced us a lot. We knew everything was from God—vocations, marriage, religion, everything.”

Still, both parents say they were “kind of surprised” when their oldest child decided to enter Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad shortly after he graduated in 1983 from Bellarmine University in Louisville with an accounting degree.

But, his mother says, “I knew he was in God’s hands, and God would guide him.”

Those words sum up the belief that has guided the archbishop’s family for generations.

It’s also a belief that Archbishop Thompson embraces as he begins to lead the Catholic faithful in central and southern Indiana.

When he is installed as the new archbishop of Indianapolis on July 28

in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis, his parents, his sister, his brother and his sister-in-law will travel from Kentucky to be with him—just as he has always been there for them. A large contingent of other relatives is also expected to witness this latest chapter in the family’s story of faith.

“I’m sure it’s going to be very emotional,” his mother says.

A hint of that emotion shows when his father describes their oldest child, “I couldn’t ask for more or better. He’s always been a true, straight person all his life. If he tells you something, you can count on it.”

He pauses before adding, “We’re proud of him. We love him, and we hope everything works out well for him.”

His sister is sure it will—because of the person she knows her brother to be. She knows all the ways he has been there for her. She has seen the love and concern he has shown as an uncle to her three children.

“He’s honest, patient and understanding,” she says. “He’s a great guy, and he does everything by the book. He’s very holy, and he very much trusts in God.”

As she thinks about his installation Mass, her thoughts turn from the person he is to the family bond they share.

“We’re a close-knit family,” she says. “This is very important to him, and it’s very important for us. I want to be there for my brother—supporting him and letting him know how proud we are of him.” †

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