When Bishop Charles C. Thompson was ordained as Evansville’s fifth bishop on June 29, 2011, it was with all the fanfare and ceremony the post evokes. Meet the man behind the vestments — the spiritual leader with an undergraduate degree in accounting.
Evansville Living recently sat down with Bishop Thompson and found the Kentucky native who grew up with church at the center of his life, and received his Master of Divinity degree right down the road at St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology, is introspective, accessible, and down to earth. Dare we say the leader of the Catholic Church in Evansville seems like a regular guy?
City View: A big deal was made about your name at your ordination. What should we call you?
Bishop Thompson: When this announcement was coming out, Bishop (Thomas C.) Kelly, the late bishop of Louisville, said, “You are not going to be Bishop Chuck. You are going to be Bishop Charles or Bishop Thompson.” I don’t have a preference. As far as what people call me, I think it is kind of funny.
CV: Were you born a Catholic?
BT: I am a cradle Catholic. I grew up in the most Catholic county in the state of Kentucky (Marion County). I remember when we moved to Louisville, I was walking home one day, and somebody (was) trying to “save” me. My mom had to explain that there was something other than a Catholic.
CV: You went to high school during de-segregation. How did that experience change your life?
BT: I was bussed to one of the worst schools in the entire system. There were times we had to duck because there would be a rock or a brick thrown through the window. There was a stabbing in the school. There were two girls raped on the third floor, so they closed down that floor. There were drug deals. I really started asking myself, “What is this violence? What does my life say to this? How do I live a life that contrasts and speaks against it?” It was the first time I thought on social justice, and then I thought of the priesthood.
CV: When did you know you would become a priest?
BT: Somewhere in college, it really started gnawing at me. It just had never left me. That’s when I actually went to see my cousin Father Dale Cieslik.
CV: Do you have a leadership style?
BT: I asked Bishop Kelly for advice. He kept saying to me very clearly, “Chuck, be yourself. Just be yourself.” And so, I am just trying to be myself right now.
CV: Who are you?
BT: I am a pretty structured person, pretty organized. But also I hope that I am approachable and personable, and I hope that administration organization does not overshadow the spiritual and the call for prayer. I hope there is a balance.
CV: What was your life like the moment after you were publicly announced the new bishop?
BT: All of the sudden, the mail started coming in, and it just kept piling up. What I did the first couple of days as bishop was try to get all of the mail in at least four different piles. Divide and conquer.