New facility named in honor of retired Bishop David B. Thompson
By JORDAN MCMORROUGH
DANIEL ISLAND — The dedication of the Bishop Thompson Center for the Performing Arts at Bishop England High School took place Sept. 27, as holy water and incense blessed and reverenced a 700-seat facility that will greatly enhance theatrical and musical opportunities for Catholic students in the holy city.
At the Thursday evening event, Principal David Held expressed his appreciation for the perpetual support of Bishop Robert Baker. “But the move (from downtown Charleston to Daniel Island) wouldn’t have taken place without the vision, courage, and commitment of Bishop David Thompson,” Held said.
The program opened with the singing of “God Bless America.” In words of welcome, Bishop Baker said it was a fitting occasion to be in a place where youth will be nurtured in the beauty of God’s performing arts, adding, “Bishop Thompson nurtured the arts and cared diligently for the church in the Diocese of Charleston as a successor to Bishop John England.”
In his homily, Bishop Thompson demonstrated his flair for the dramatic by dividing his comments into three acts.
“In the beginning God created heaven and earth. God was the creator and promoter of the performing arts,” said the bishop, launching into a biblical overview covering Genesis through Moses. Characters cited by Bishop Thompson included Adam and Eve, “the original leading man and leading lady”; Cain and Abel; Abraham and Sarah; Esau and Jacob; the 12 tribes of Israel; and Joseph the dreamer.
He interwove theatrical themes throughout the talk, linking the tower of Babel and the gift of opera. “Even if you don’t understand the words, you get the meaning.” And, in describing the exodus from Egypt, the bishop asked, “Can’t you just hear that music?” He cited, too, that the walls of Jericho came down with the blasts of trumpets.
Bishop Thompson’s “Act II” was the performing art of the liturgy of God’s word. He said he had asked Held to have Bill Schlitt and Maida Libkin, former directors of music ministry at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, conduct the liturgy of the word.
“Bill and Maida originally came to us from Broadway. Isn’t it wonderful that they are here on our stage tonight?” the bishop said, smiling. “It’s nice to deal with professionals.”
He recognized other ministers of the liturgy present onstage. This included Msgr. Robert J. Kelly, chaplain to Bishop England High School; Msgr. Laurence B. McInerny and Msgr. Charles Rowland, both alumni of Bishop England; and Our Lady of Mercy Sister Bridget Sullivan, an alumna of the school, who served as a reader at the ceremony.
Appreciation was extended to the Cathedral Choir of St. John the Baptist and the B.E. Chamber Singers, along with cantor Allyson Moring.
Messages of gratitude were also expressed to Bishop Baker for his support; to Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley, who worked to have land allocated for the school; and to diocesan finance officer Dennis Atwood, ‘for financing to make the school a possible dream, not an impossible one,” Bishop Thompson said.
He then thanked all benefactors who have contributed to the building and running of the high school.
In “Act III,” the bishop discussed the music that surrounds the seasons at Christmas, Lent, Easter, and he expressed his hope that students would portray the roles and characters of the Nativity and Passion at the appropriate times of year.
He also alluded to possible other uses for the auditorium, to perhaps hosting big band orchestras and singers familiar to the baby boomer generation.
“Maybe we can entice Chubby Checkers from Andrews, South Carolina, to come here and do the twist?” asked Bishop Thompson to laughter from the audience.
“It’s here that stars are born. Just think of the shows that can be put on here,” the bishop said, listing “Annie,” “My Fair Lady,” “The Importance of Being Earnest,” and “Charlie’s Aunt” to name just a few.
He expressed his pleasure that the auditorium building has enclosed the quadrangle at Bishop England. “It now makes a complete school.”
Prior to the concluding blessing, Schlitt sang Malotte’s Lord’s Prayer. Bishop Thompson requested that the prayer be offered for the protection of our country and its citizens, and he asked that all join hands in that final prayer.
In closing comments, Bishop Baker credited Bishop Thompson for the entire Bishop England facility. “Your vision and drive set that in motion. Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he said, as the audience of about 350 rose to its feet for a standing ovation.
The bishop then continued his praise for his predecessor. “In his homily, he demonstrated the power of the word. He is devoted to sharing the message of the Gospel. I was moved to hear him challenge us to complete the final act. His homilies over the years have given all of us something to nibble on for deeper reflection.”
Bishop Baker said that education has always been a top priority for Bishop Thompson and that he continues to follow his philosophy that any Catholic should not be denied the opportunity to attend a Catholic school.
“What a great legacy he has left for us,” said Bishop Baker, facing the retired bishop. “He spends an hour a day before the Blessed Sacrament. He practices what he believes. Thank you for being an inspiration to us here.”
A reception in the school gymnasium followed the ceremony.