Interview with Fr. Jim Thompson, O.S.A.

Patrick Murphy: Hello everyone. This is Patrick Murphy with the Augustinians. Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Father Jim Thompson, who is a chaplain at the Little Company of Mary Sisters in Evergreen Park, Illinois. Father Jim, it is a pleasure to speak with you today.

Fr. Jim Thompson, O.S.A.: Thank you, Patrick. Good to be here.

Murphy: The first question I'd like to ask, Father, is what was it that called you to be an Augustinian?

Thompson: In my case it was environmental. From fourth grade on I was in St. Rita Parish, and was an altar boy, and so was around the priests that were there in the parish quite frequently. I knew I wanted to be a priest, and that was true a long time. When I was in eighth grade, Father Phil Foley, who was then the vocation director, came to our eighth grade class, and said, "Is anybody here interested in being a priest?" I raised my hand. He saw me privately, and he said, "Would you like to go to our Minor Seminary in Holland, Michigan?" I said, "Yeah. I think that would be fine." My parents were okay with that, and off I went.

It was just the familiarity with the Augustinians, and the fact that they asked me.

Murphy: Yeah. I've heard that story multiple times. Somebody reached out and asked, as simple as that.

Thompson: Exactly, yeah.

Murphy: You've been an Augustinian for some time now.

Thompson: Fifty years.

Murphy: Is that right?

Thompson: Yeah, yeah. Fred and I just celebrated our fiftieth last year.

Murphy: Congratulations.

Thompson: Thank you.

Murphy: I know over those past fifty years you've had a variety of ministries, not just the chaplain at the hospital, but in your experience--from your experience I should say--what would you say the role is of the Augustinian Order to date, and do you think that the Augustinians are still relevant in today's society?

Thompson: Unlike a lot of other communities, we were formed by the Church in the thirteenth century out of preexisting communities, and at that time, the idea to serve the needs of the Church. We do all kinds of things. Some orders are founded, like the Little Company Sisters, to work in the hospital with the sick and the dying.

We were formed to serve the needs of the Church, and so as a result, we do parish... We do university, high school teaching. We do mission work. We do parish missions. People like me, as an Augustinian, serve in a totally other apostolate, but as an Augustinian, I'm at Little Company of Mary Hospital, and so the deal is I think we add a difference when we do those apostolates, and it's precisely our community life, our living together, and witnessing to community and friendship has an effect on the communities that we serve. I think they find it appealing. Yeah. They like us. That's all I can say. Yeah.

Murphy: Would you say that the... Besides living in community, which is a very important aspect of Augustinian life.

Thompson: Right.

Murphy: Would you say that community is transferred and builds community outside of the Augustinian Order in your ministry?

Thompson: Exactly right, yeah. I think that's what happens in our parishes. I lived in St. Louis. We no longer have that parish, but we participated in the life of that parish community as if we were another family. So pot lucks, we brought our stuff. In other words, besides ministering sacraments and preaching, we, also, participated in the life of the community, and I think our schools especially are strong witnesses to the building of community.

At the hospital, my boss is Deacon Rich Warfield, and he now has... He had a granddaughter last year in Providence High School, and now his grandson is at Providence High School, and he cannot speak highly enough about the spirit that the Augustinians foster in that school. He said he's never seen anything like it in a school.

Sorry?

Murphy: No, no. I just said yeah.

Thompson: Yeah, right. It's really good to hear that, because that was unsolicited, and he said it's just remarkable and very good. St. Rita High School is the same thing. There's a real sense of community and belonging, and the kids are happy to be part of that, and, again, I think that's our influence.

Murphy: Yeah. Father, I, also, don't want to make you blush at all, but I know that just recently you were featured on People You Should Know by CBS Chicago.

Thompson: Right.

Murphy: They called you the "Wounded Healer."

Thompson: That's correct, yeah.

Murphy: Maybe the people that are listening that don't know you don't realize, but your chaplaincy working with those that are in the hospital, you actually have been in ministry for most of your life with your own impairment.

Thompson: That's right.

Murphy: Would you care to speak about that at all?

Thompson: Sure, yeah. Shortly after I was ordained I was diagnosed with a condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa, because they couldn't get my vision to 20/20 with glasses, so they discovered that. It's been a gradual process of reduced vision.

Let's see. It was probably 1987 where I was finally diagnosed or called legally blind, which to me was a wonderful thing, because I got the books on tape from the Library of Congress. A lot of things became available to me, which made my life a lot easier.

It's continued to deteriorate, the vision. I'm happy that I'm in the hospital, because it's something that I can do. I've been there for over 15 years, and I know the place, and people know me, and I'm able to get around, and I'm able to minister individually to the patients, especially with the sacraments, the anointing, confession for those who want it. Then I end each afternoon with the Mass at three thirty in the chapel. It's a regular... Well, whatever. It's what I do, at least Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and then sometimes Thursday and Friday when I'm asked.

Murphy: I wanted to bring that up especially, because like you said, the Church was the one that called the Augustinians together, because there was a need.

Thompson: That's correct.

Murphy: Even though the communities were separate, they were pulled together, and they overcame their own obstacles in service of the Church. When I saw that story on CBS, I thought the same way. Not only did you overcome your own obstacles, but I think that it helps you connect with people a little bit more.

Thompson: It does, and especially with elder people who are dealing with the ravages of old age, and finding it more and more difficult to do a lot of things. They'll say, "How do you do it? How can you keep going?" Usually what I say to them is the alternative is not acceptable to me, because the alternative would be I guess to stay in my room, and listen to books, and not go out, and not continue to do the things that I can do. To me that's not a good choice. It's a bad choice. I have to do what I do with a lot of adaptation and with help from other people, but long ago I've overcome the difficulty of being embarrassed by asking for help, and it works.

And I think there's something really good about people being able to help. Even in the rooms sometimes, I set my cane, my white cane in a different place, and, of course, I can't find it, and the patient will say, "It's to your right, Father, leaning against the picture," or something. I laugh and I say, "Thank you very much."

Murphy: One thing that I want to talk about is the Continuing Our Journey of Faith campaign. Father, as I think you know, the campaign hopes to build the Father Ray Ryan Trust for vocations, and the Journey of a Lifetime Trust for retired and Infirm friars. Why do you think that this campaign might be particularly important right now?

Thompson: The Journey of a Lifetime, I mean we have a lot of elderly, and we'll continue to. The interesting thing about us though is that once we reach whatever the retirement age is, 55, 65, rarely do we retire. The time when the care needs to kick in is when we really do need the help. As everybody knows, it's extremely expensive, like nursing home and individual care and all of that. It's a great help to have this kind of a trust or fund to call upon to be able to support, in addition to Medicare, which helps to a certain extent, but the expenses go way beyond Medicare as people get older and sicker.

On the other side, the Ray Ryan Trust for vocations, and we're doing quite well vocation-wise, but, again, there again it's kind of an apostolate, but no money comes in from it. Only money goes out, because we're [at] Catholic Theological Union (CTU). We're paying tuition for books, supporting the community that I live in right now, St. Augustine Friary, and there is no salary coming with that. We're simply educating young men for the future as priests and brothers in the Order.

Again, like everything else in the world today, it's expensive. Expensive, but I believe very well worth doing. They get a good education. They live in community, again, which is essential, and that needs to be supported. If they were out working... It's one of those things. Well, send them out and get a job as they say, but then when would they get educated?

Murphy: Right.

Thompson: It's a whole different picture. By whatever age anymore ... I mean we have people of many ages, also. We have some older people, and we have some typical, like college graduates, who are vocations.

Murphy: Also, I think beyond the education of the guys studying at CTU or wherever, I think that, like you said, you can't just go out and get a job, because the other key aspect of them right now is just formation beyond education.

Thompson: Correct.

Murphy: About learning what it's like to be an Augustinian living in community. Can you speak to that at all?

Thompson: Yeah. We have a lot of reflective meetings, group meetings, and so on, precisely with reflecting on our life together, our tradition. Then there's the actual lived experience. People assuming responsibility within the community for particular concerns, particular tasks. It works very well.

Again, it's, also, a test, because some people are not called to live that way. In the past, we've had students in formation, who come to a point they realize, "You know what? I want my own bank account. I want my own car." In other words, they've gone, in some cases, to be diocesan priests, which is correct. I mean they don't live in community, and they have a kind of independence that we don't have by choice. We share all things in common is what the Rule says. This is a training in that, also.

Murphy: Sure. Father, did you know Father Ray Ryan well?

Thompson: I did.

Murphy: Do you think that it's appropriate to call this trust for formation and vocations, do you think it's appropriate to name it after Father Ray?

Thompson: Yes. He spent his life as a formator, initially at the Minor Seminary in Holland, Michigan, and then he went to the Theologate. Then became Novicemaster, and then went back. Even when he was at Providence High School, semi-retired, he was the one dealing with the... What do we call them? I guess candidates, like pre-novitiate, postulants, who are living in community experimentally, but, also, need a kind of... It's a less formal formation, but he was the one that was, also, doing that kind of work.

Yeah. I mean he was... He did formation on every level in the Order, including being Provincial, which is adult formation dealing with the already professed friars and so on.

Murphy: Sure. Father, do you have any advice for anybody that might currently be discerning a religious vocation?

Thompson: It's really difficult, because I think the responsibility frequently is on our side, but to talk to somebody, because I mean discernment to a certain extent is something you do by yourself, but you've got to bounce it off somebody. You've got to talk about what you're thinking, what you're feeling, just to help get a better sense of which way you want to go. To have a spiritual director, somebody that you can confide in and talk to as you struggle to make that decision. Is this right for me or is it not?

Murphy: Sure. I know you have to get up to the hospital a little bit later today...

Thompson: Right.

Murphy: I just have one more question. Since we're talking about the campaign, again, why do you think others should consider making a gift to the capital campaign?

Thompson: Because they're going to feel good when they do it, especially if they're paying attention. We've been doing a much better job of reaching out and informing people of who we are, what it is we do, and inviting them, involving them to come to not just presentations for collections, but presentations on spirituality, theology...

Yeah. They'd be doing something very good, obviously for us, but for the Church, and in a sense for themselves. Many of the people already know us, but for those who don't, if they do a little investigating, I think they'll be properly impressed, and feel, I hope encouraged to say this is something that I would like to support because it is valuable. Look at all they do, the variety of things they do, the people they serve, and the dedication with which they do it. That's true. We are dedicated. Yeah.

Again, if it makes sense, I think first of all to support something that's good, and at the same time, to feel proud and good about yourself for being able to do that, and then actually doing it.

Murphy: All right. Very well put, Father. Once again, thank you for taking out the time to speak with us. If anybody wants to know more information about the campaign, you can find more information here at augustiniancampaign.org, or contact campaign director, Michael Gerrity at 773-595-4035. Thanks again, Father. Have a good day at the hospital, and we wish you well.

Thompson: You're welcome, Patrick. Thank you. Bye bye.

 
Posted on December 9, 2014 and filed under Jim Thompson O.S.A..