Fr. Simeon Cleves, OFM
He was the definition of dedication
BY TONI CASHNELLI
They had to make him take a day off. That’s how devoted Fr. Simeon Cleves was to his job at The Christ Hospital.
Those who attended his funeral on March 28 at St. Margaret Hall in Cincinnati left with renewed appreciation for the word "faithful".
Simeon was 70 when he accepted a chaplain position at the hospital where he ministered for 17 years. "I’m not working part-time; I’m working full-time," he had informed Doug Mitchell, the Director of Pastoral Services.
He was so committed that in his first days on the job, "He would sit at the information desk to get to know people" as they came in, Doug said at the funeral. Pressed by bosses, Simeon eventually took Wednesdays off to do laundry, but even when they insisted, "He would not stay home for inclement weather."
Br. Tim Sucher, former guardian at St. Francis Seraph Friary, recalled the icy winter night he got a phone call from a fellow friar. It was Simeon, who had fallen at the back door, across the street from his car. He asked Tim, "Can you help me up? I’ve got to go to the hospital; they need me." In Tim’s opinion, "He was gonna die as chaplain at Christ."
None of this surprised Simeon’s family, who turned out in such numbers for the funeral it was hard to keep them straight. Easily identifiable was Msgr. William "Bill" Cleves, pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in Newport, Ky., former president of Thomas More College, and a nephew of Simeon.
"One time I got called to Christ Hospital," Bill said. When he arrived he told them, "I’m Fr. Cleves." They responded, "No, you’re not." Explaining he was Simeon’s nephew, Bill got directions to the surgical ICU, where he again announced, "I’m Fr. Cleves." And they replied, "No, you’re not." Since then, Bill said, "Every time I go to Christ I simply say, ‘I’m the nephew’. That gets me in."
Many who were close to Simeon came to the funeral, including Fr. Al Ruschman, a fellow 1945 graduate of Covington Latin School. "Simeon was our pastor for nine years" at St. Therese, said Theresa Driscoll, who brought her family from Fort Wayne, Ind. "We have known him and loved him for years." Others echoed the sentiment expressed by Doug: "I’m blessed to have had him as part of my life."
Br. Norbert Bertram, Director of the Office for Senior Friars, worked with Simeon when a series of strokes forced his retirement to St. Margaret Hall. As hard as this was for him, "I found Simeon to be kind and gentle and patient, always smiling," Norbert said. Asked how he was doing, Simeon would invariably reply, "FanTAStic!"
Celebrant Fr. Jeff Scheeler welcomed a crowd so large it filled not only the pews but rows of folding chairs in back of the chapel. "It’s so good this church is packed with so many people from different parts of Simeon’s life," Jeff said. "It’s a sign of the love and affection you had for him."
Before giving the homily, nephew Bill proclaimed the Gospel, the verses from Luke in which Jesus is presented in the temple. "Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon," Bill began. "This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel." People in the pews smiled in recognition of the story.
"It had been revealed to him by the holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:
"‘Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.’"
The ancients believed that "God must live in the heavens," Bill said. "They looked to the heavens. The ‘temple’ was originally the sky, the dwelling place of God." Now we believe "We are the temple, the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts. We need only go to the temple to find that quiet place within us."
How fitting that in Hebrew the name "Simeon" means "God has heard"– and that God responds by offering new life.
"The life of Simeon teaches us many things," Bill said, speaking to people who understood the impact of a life lived well. "We pray that he who often went to the temple can now say, ‘Let your servant go in peace.’"