By John Shaughnessy
Editor’s note: The following is the third and final article in a series reflecting on the Indiana Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Indiana, which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its founding.
Nel Thompson’s face lights up when she tells the story about her parents.
“They were up in years, and it was a day where it was 30 below with the wind chill. And there was snow,” she recalls about her mom and dad, Katie and Ed Lamperski. “We called them up to check on them. They were gone. “They went to church.”
Thompson shares that story to show the foundation and inspiration for her 42-year — and counting — career of dedication and commitment to the archdiocese and the Church.
“My mom was ahead of her time,” says Thompson, the administrative assistant for the Indiana Catholic Conference, the official public policy voice of the Church in Indiana regarding state and national matters. “She was ahead of that saying, ‘What would Jesus do?’ She would always tell us that. That’s always in the back of my mind.”
While that consistency marks Thompson’s life and her faith, it’s also the quality she appreciates most about the work of the ICC.
“The one thing that sticks with me about the ICC and the Catholic Church in general is, it’s always constant,” says Thompson, a member of St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. “We work year after year for the poor, the vulnerable, and the common good and well-being of the people of Indiana.
“Even though other things change, that remains the same. And the conference’s dedication to getting that word out to the legislature is always constant. The Church’s position is not always the popular position or what the legislature will go with, but that’s what I pride the conference on — the dedication.”
Thompson personifies that dedication, according to Glenn Tebbe, the executive director of the ICC.
“I could not function without her,” says Tebbe, who has led the conference and represented the bishops of Indiana in public policy concerns for the past 13 years.
“I depend on her to handle the operations and the general daily matters. She has been the constant for three directors — Ray Rufo, Des Ryan and me. She has put up with an Italian, an Irishman and a German. Who else can do that and still keep smiling and happy in one’s job?”
Thompson smiles as she recalls one of her favorite moments with the 19 bishops of Indiana she has worked for through the years, including four archbishops of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
This favorite moment unfolded when she reached her 10th anniversary of work for the conference. To mark the occasion, then-conference director Des Ryan and other staff members were taking her to lunch. But before the meal, Ryan had a meeting with then-Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara. As the meeting ended, both men talked about their lunch plans.
“The archbishop said, ‘Oh, I’ll meet you there,’ to Des,” Thompson says. “Des came back to the office and told me about it. I said, ‘That will be fine.’ So we went to lunch, and I remember the archbishop ordering barbecued ribs, and there was barbecue sauce and everything. To me, I thought, ‘Wow, what a human way to see a bishop. That’s kind of an honor to see him in that light as well as a bishop.’ ”
Thompson smiles again as she continues, “A lot of Catholics probably can’t say that the bishops of the state know them by their first name. It’s been a privilege to work with the bishops. I’ve always enjoyed working with them.”
She has the same regard and respect for the three executive directors she has worked with during her 42 years.
“All three have provided very good leadership, and they’ve been so faith-filled and dedicated, and they love the Church and what they do at the Statehouse. Each had their own different personality and their different way of coming about it, but their dedication is always the same. They’ve been good bosses to work for.”
It’s been a career that began in an era of carbon paper, typewriters and bulk mailings, a career in which she has handled the changes to Facebook, electronic communications and websites. It’s also been a time when she and her husband, Dan, have been married for 39 years.
Now, the Indiana Catholic Conference is marking 50 years.
“My hope for the conference is that it continues on with the good work it’s been doing, and that more people will become more aware of the conference, and be involved in what we do,” she says.
At 62, Thompson hopes to be a part of that effort for a few more years.
“I just enjoy what I do. There came a time when I thought, ‘You know, it’s really a neat thing that my job can also be a ministry.’ The Church and the work coincided. That’s always been an added plus for me. You go to work every day, but you also go to work for the Church every day.
“You’re part of something larger than yourself.”
John Shaughnessy is assistant editor of The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
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