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August 3, 2008

From class cut-up to teacher of ancient Greek

By Dolores Madlener

STAFF WRITER

Interviewee

Father Richard Simon works on his Web site “Reverend Know it All” at St. Lambert
Rectory in Skokie.Catholic New World/Karen Callaway

He is: Father Richard Simon pastor of St. Lambert Parish, Skokie. Attended St. Francis Xavier School, LaGrange; Quigley South, the college seminaries and was ordained at Mundelein in 1975. Taught ancient Greek and Latin for 25 years at Niles and St. Joseph seminaries. Is a frequent guest on Relevant Radio’s “Searching the Word.”

Has six older siblings: “Dad was treasurer of Morris B. Sachs Clothing Co., mother was a math major, and I can barely add. Mother was a social worker during the Depression. She raised her family and then taught at the parish school in LaGrange for almost 15 years.”

Influence: “I don’t think I was academically inclined. I had a terrible time in grade school. I was the kid who stood in the corner. In 4th grade I had Sister Mary Lucy, who was kind. Without her, I think I would have gotten into pretty serious trouble. She took time to make sure I was learning. It made all the difference. She lived to see me ordained.”

First job: “Mowing lawns. Second job was packing groceries at Jewel. Third was working at a paint warehouse, and fourth was driving a bus for Angel Guardian’s orphans while a seminarian. That’s when I decided I really wanted to be a priest.”

Assignments: He was involved with Charismatic Renewal in the seminary and was baptized in the spirit in 1968. Charismatic renewal was exploding at St. Aloysius Parish. That was one of his assignments for eight years. He became pastor of St. Thomas of Canterbury in 1986, “where we actually used six languages at Masses.” Thanks to his “bad college French” he could be understood by his Vietnamese parishioners and today by Haitians at St. Lambert’s.

Prayer life: “I try to begin the day with prayer. I say two Masses and try to stay in church and read my breviary and say a rosary. A wiser priest than I once said, ‘The struggle in the church is not between so-called liberals or conservatives, but between those who believe in the supernatural and those who don’t.’”

Pet peeve: “The phrase, ‘To build the kingdom,’ makes me crazy. You can’t ‘build’ the kingdom. The kingdom is a gift. Jesus said to the disciples, ‘Little children, it has pleased the Father to give you a kingdom.’ You can edify the church and advance the kingdom, but if you’re not listening to God in prayer, then this is all just sort of busy work.”

Favorite historical figure: “Paul of Tarsus. After Jesus he’s the creator of our civilization. He was the very first Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian. He combined those four cultural strains in one person.”

Why wear the cassock? “Because it’s tradition. Here’s a proverb: ‘He who is married to the spirit of an age soon finds himself a widower.’ The idea that you can be an invisible priest is not very sacramental. There’s no such thing as an invisible sacrament. We’re not like the world, we’re different, that’s why I wear a cassock.”

Still a pilgrim: “I’ve been to Fatima, Lourdes and Jerusalem a few times, to Rome, Assisi, the sanctuary of St. Ignatius in the Basque country of Spain, all the [holy] hot spots. When possible, I visit my cousins in Germany. I’m a Hessian on both sides of my family. Some relatives actually fought in the War for Independence.” (Yes, on the side of the English!)

Unintended blessings: “A Jesuit saw me standing in the blocks-long line to register as a seminarian at Loyola. It was the ’60s and I wanted to be a psychology major. He looked at my transcripts and said, “You’ve had some Greek and Latin, classics majors can go to the front of the line. I signed on, thinking I’d change it later. Studying Greek and Latin changed my whole life. To read the Scriptures in Greek has been wonderful.

“I never took Spanish in school.” But he picked it up from Puerto Rican kids at the orphanage and has used it throughout his ministry. “Learning Spanish was an accident. Latin provided the vocabulary and most of the grammar. It’s been a blessing to be able to speak Spanish fluently.”

Latin Mass: “I say the Latin Mass once a month on the first Sunday at 5 p.m. It isn’t a matter of either/or. The wealth of the church provides both. It’s a different emphasis on the same mystery.”