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At home on campus, at rectory or fire house

By Dolores Madlener | Staff writer
Sunday, April 22, 2012

Father Kenneth Simpson, pastor of St. Clement's, 642 W. Deming Place. (Brian J. Morowczynski / Catholic New World)

He is: Father Kenneth Simpson, pastor of St. Clement Parish since 2007. Former dean of formation and vice rector of Niles Seminary for 10 years, and former director of the Sheil Catholic Center at Northwestern University for 15 years. Was ordained at Mundelein in 1978.

Youth: “My younger sister and I were adopted as infants (we’re not blood brother and sister). Being adopted was a big theme in our lives growing up. My parents’ gratitude for getting us and my gratitude for getting great parents was huge.

Mom and Dad went to the same high school, but started dating while working at Sears. I say I got everything in my life from Sears – my parents, my clothes, my work experience! Both parents worked at the home office at Homan and Arthington, but dad finished his career at the Tower. My mother was a buyer during WWII; my sister and I worked at Golf Mill. Dad wasn’t Catholic when they married but he converted when I was in fourth grade. We were actually confirmed on the same night. Typical of my father, he went through the whole preparation process secretly.”

Schools: “We had the Sisters of Mercy at St. Paul of the Cross in Park Ridge, and I’ve maintained an affection and connection with them over the years.” Altar boy? “I was the head of the altar boys. At Loyola Academy I was a wrestler for four years -- not a great wrestler, but because I was a member of a great team I’m in Loyola Academy’s athletic hall of fame.” He says “I was inspired by the things the Jesuits taught me and got me involved in at school. One of my high school classmates was also ordained a diocesan priest, Father Joe Tito, pastor of our sharing parish, Our Lady of Mercy.”

After ordination he earned a Masters in Spirituality degree at the University of San Francisco over four summers. It was preparation for 25 years with college students. “At Niles we had 200 students and 25 priests and Sheil had 1,000 Catholic students and 300 families. Sheil Center was really a parish for the campus.”

Becoming pastor: “Some of my former students from Northwestern are parishioners at St. Clement’s. I’ve done their weddings and baptisms. We have a lot of young people here. Liturgy is a big focus.”  

He was once on the auxiliary staff of the Office for Divine Worship, it is one of his big interests. “Father Dan Coughlin, who was director, is a mentor of mine in the area of liturgy and spirituality.” In 2010 ODW used his photo on the cover of their best selling “Understanding the Revised Mass Texts,” a resource for use of the New Roman Missal.

“Two great mentors of mine were Cardinal Bernardin and Archbishop Thomas Murphy, rector of St. Mary of the Lake when we were there. I was uniquely blessed to be one of Cardinal Bernardin’s emcees for his whole time here. I stayed good friends with Archbishop Murphy until his death. He was a huge influence in my life and I still ask him for advice.”

Spiritual life: “Daily prayer and the Lectionary. I did the 30-day Ignatian retreat years ago, which was a big reference point for me. I’ve done eight-day retreats with the Jesuits – and retreats with the Trappists at Gethsemane and New Melleray.”

Leisure: “I like outdoor stuff, backpacking in Montana every summer. I’m a runner of sorts. “I’m reading a bunch of books at once, like “Standing Together in the Community of God,” on liturgy and eucharist, by Paul Janowiak. And some things on brain chemistry and personality. A couple books on the Council, since it’s the 50th anniversary. Not a lot of fiction. Thomas Merton would be one of my major authors.”

“A huge part of my life has been the fire department.” He’s been a certified EMT (Emergency Medical Technician), firefighter and chaplain. “I was taking EMT classes while at Mundelein and working the night shift at Resurrection Hospital. It has led to a wonderful association with emergency workers, especially fire fighters as a chaplain but also fighting fires with them, or running ambulance calls with them, in Highwood as a deacon and in Orland Park. I was their first chaplain and did fire-fighting stuff and EMT as a paid-on-call, in addition to serving at St. Michael Parish.”

Favorite Scripture: “John 10:10: Jesus’ mission statement, ‘I’ve come that you may have life and have it to the full.’”