Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Bishop Thompson dies at age 90; recalled as ‘good friend, holy priest’

By Catholic News Service | Published December 5, 2013
Retired Bishop David B. Thompson, who headed the Diocese of Charleston, S.C., from 1990-1999, died Nov. 24 at age 90 in Isle of Palms, S.C. He is pictured in an undated photo. CNS photo/courtesy The Catholic Miscellany

Retired Bishop David B. Thompson, who headed the Diocese of Charleston, S.C., from 1990-1999, died Nov. 24 at age 90 in Isle of Palms, S.C. He is pictured in an undated photo. CNS photo/courtesy The Catholic Miscellany

CHARLESTON, S.C. (CNS)—Retired David B. Thompson, who headed the Diocese of Charleston from 1990-1999, died Nov. 24. He was 90.

His funeral Mass was celebrated at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston Dec. 4, followed by the rite of committal.

A memorial service was planned for Dec. 18 at 6:30 p.m. in Christ Our King Church in Mount Pleasant, where the late bishop ministered in retirement.

Charleston Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone recalled him with warmth, saying he was grateful for the genuine welcome and support Bishop Thompson offered him when he first took the helm of the diocese five years ago.

“We in the Diocese of Charleston have lost a good friend, a holy priest and faithful bishop,” he said. “Bishop David Thompson was an inspiration, not only in his active life as priest and bishop, but also in his 16 years of retirement.”

After he retired at age 76, Bishop Thompson remained an avid golfer and continued to serve the diocese as called upon. He celebrated confirmations, served in weekend ministry at Christ Our King Church, served as a judge on the diocesan Office of Tribunal, offered days of recollection, hosted retreats, and gave talks to religious groups.

Blessed John Paul II appointed then-Msgr. Thompson as Charleston’s coadjutor in April 1989. When Bishop Ernest L. Unterkoefler retired in February 1990, Bishop Thompson immediately succeeded him, becoming the 11th bishop of Charleston.

During his nine years as shepherd of the statewide diocese, Bishop Thompson traveled thousands of miles to visit every parish and mission. He was known for his stance against the Confederate flag over the Statehouse and gambling, and strongly upholding Catholic teaching against abortion and the death penalty.

His 1992 pastoral letter, “Our Heritage—Our Hope,” convoked a synod, the first in the Charleston Diocese since 1956. Work on the official gathering of laity and clergy began in 1990, and the process culminated with a third session and celebratory closing in January 1995.

The bishop was awarded the Tree of Life Award, which is the Jewish National Fund’s highest honor, for his efforts on behalf of interfaith harmony. He also received the Order of the Palmetto award, considered the highest civilian honor in South Carolina.

David Bernard Thompson was born May 29, 1923, in Philadelphia. After graduating from West Catholic High School in 1941, he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in history at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa.

He was ordained a priest of the Philadelphia Archdiocese May 27, 1950. He began postgraduate studies in September of that year at The Catholic University of America in Washington, where he earned a licentiate in canon law.

In September 1952, then-Father Thompson began a five-year stint as a teacher at St. Thomas More High School in Philadelphia. He also served as a guidance counselor. During that time, he took courses at Villanova University and served as an advocate on the Archdiocesan Tribunal.

Father Thompson was named the founding principal of Notre Dame High School in Easton, Pa., July 15, 1957.

Responding to students’ requests for a social outlet similar to “American Bandstand,” the priest started Notre Dame “Bandstand” in 1957. He hired Gene Kaye, a disc jockey at an Allentown, Pa., radio station, who helped propel the record hop to national prominence and dubbed the priest “Father Bandstand.”

Among the teen idols that appeared on Notre Dame’s stage were Paul Anka, Frankie Avalon, Chubby Checker, Connie Francis, Fabian, The Four Aces, Annette Funicello, Herman’s Hermits, Brenda Lee and Bobby Rydell. When Paul Anka performed in 1960, more than 2,300 teenagers attended.

He is survived by a twin brother, Msgr. Edward J. Thompson, who served in what was then the Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas and is now retired in Florida; and a sister, Elizabeth Jane, married to John H. Hutton of Drexel Hill, Pa., and their four grown children.