At age 97, Father Simon lives at the Sacred Heart Retreat Community in Louisville, KY, continues his ministry, writes and publishes a newsletter, and maintains friendships over the miles. He says that the biggest surprise in his life is “to have lived to be this old,” and he is grateful for these years of ministry. He rises early and is often the person who makes the coffee because he is in the kitchen before the staff.
His early rising started on the family farm in Iowa, where he did chores before going to school in a horse-drawn buggy. He continued to rise early, although it was by Model T Ford that he got to high school, and eventually to Loras College for two years.
Father Simon had always felt drawn to priesthood. It was during high school that Father Leonard Barthelemy, C.P. came to preach a mission at the parish church. It was not until college that Father Simon made the decision to join the Congregation of the Passion, founded by St. Paul of the Cross in 1720.
Father Simon thought that he would become a missionary, but that was not the straight path he was given to walk. He says now that his ministries have been divided into roughly 20-year periods. During the first 20 years he was involved in formation with the young men entering the Passionist Seminary. The next 20 years was spent being Local Superior, preaching missions and retreats, and being pastor of a parish. The next 20 plus years brought a dramatic change.
“Then in 1991, three words from a doctor, ‘You have cancer,’ turned my life upside down.” Father Simon says it was then that the Lord sent him for a three-year course at the University of Pain and Suffering. It was during this time he learned about Hospice, saw the need for end-of-life support, and directed his vision toward caring for the aging and dying. He began monthly lectures and handouts for seniors in St. Louis where he was Assistant Director of the retreat house.
Father Simon was sent to Houston in 1992. When he left for Texas, he had a mailing list of 700 seniors in St. Louis that he had served with his monthly talks. Not wanting to abandon them, he expanded his handout to a written publication, “Think Life,” especially for seniors. The response was positive, and for over 25 years his newsletters have nurtured seniors all over the world.
In addition to his publication, Father Simon served as the Catholic Chaplain for Hospice in Houston for the next twenty-five years. He says this was the most joyous time of his ministry. “It is a privilege to minister to the dying because it is the most sacred time of a person’s life.”
As though his hospice work and publishing were not enough, Father Simon was asked to be in dialog with a man who experienced hopelessness and self-loathing. When asked how he approached this person, he said he modeled what Jesus did and “just loved him.” He carries in his wallet the message the man sent him last Christmas: “I am grateful for you. You have brought me peace and showed me what it means to believe and live like Christ is inside you. Thank you for that.” After 27 years he continues contact with this man and models what it is to “love your fellow man.”
When asked what message he has for people today, Father Simon says, “Get to know Jesus as the one who is your way, your truth and your life. When times are hard or situations difficult, think about Jesus and He will show you the way.”