Br. Luke Simon, OFM
Goodbye, Mr. Spalding
BY FR. MARK SOEHNER, OFM
(In his homily for the Nov. 8 funeral of *Br. Luke Simon** at St. Margaret Hall, Mark Soehner talked about this quiet friar’s journey as a metaphor for one of the loves of Luke’s life – baseball.)*
In this age of Process Addictions a person could wonder whether Br. Luke had a "Baseball Addiction". Since this has never been my problem I just saw a glimpse during this past year’s World Series of the passion, the grit, the calculation of pitcher and batter. I can better understand why Br. Luke waited until after the ninth inning of the last game as a time to go home to the Lord.
I’d like to consider Luke’s life with the baseball metaphor, how he moved around the bases of his life. Life comes at us as a fastball or a curveball, or low and outside. Luke was lucky in his early life to have a loving grandmother, right near Wrigley Field in Chicago, Irene McGowan. Luke called her "an Irish girl from a family of seven". Maybe both she and his Mom had those Irish eyes that could shine. He and his cousin would pick up the trash around the stadium in exchange for a free ballgame. Pretty good gig if you can get it. And Luke got it – and his faith, his manners and many other good things – from his family, hitting a single and landing on first base.
A deeper search
Luke was drafted at the end of the Second World War and became part of the occupation of Germany. Maybe it felt to him like a curveball, something unexpected. There’s not much written about this time in his life, but as for many young people, a curveball can lead a person to God. So while I don’t know what happened during this time, it started some deeper search. When young Corporal Donald returned from the Army, he did what a lot of young men did with the GI Bill – went to college at Marquette, then DePaul.
He had a number of jobs, ending up in Detroit as an Insurance Adjuster. It suited him, but there was a deeper hunger, a searching that led him to Duns Scotus College. He wrote to our Provincial, Vince Kroger, exactly 61 years from the day that he died, on Nov. 4, 1956. He said: "St. Francis begged for cement and bricks to repair God’s church, and following the advice from the cover wording on the pamphlet about Franciscan Brotherhood, I’m out begging, too. With your assistance, I’ll realize my sincere desire to become a Franciscan Brother." He had a good wind up – and what a pitch! Who could pass up such a sincere request? In less than four months this search for God led him to the Franciscan Brothers School at Mt. Airy. He became Br. Luke, and landed on second base.
Now sometimes on second base, you stay for a while. Other people are up to bat and somewhat control your ability to move. After his solemn profession, Br. Luke did move around. A quiet friar with many unusual talents, he had a flair for bowling and was sought after to be on one of the friar teams, which generally won, with Luke’s high score. He was a practical jokester, a Fall Artist who could fall and look like he was hurt. His gift of numbers helped him to be treasurer at Bishop Luers and Roger Bacon High Schools. He served as porter, on pastoral teams and as local minister to St. Joseph Friary in Louisville. During these 38 years in active ministry, where did his staying power come from? From "knowing Christ and the power flowing from his resurrection." By sharing in Christ’s sufferings in Luke’s daily life, he hoped "to arrive at resurrection from the dead." In 2002, he wanted a kind of semi- retirement at the then-St. Michael’s in Southfield. He finally made it past the shortstop and slid into third. He was semi-retired. Third base.
But for a semi-retired guy he was still working it. Br. Luke became the assistant to Br. Michael Schebeci in the very active Poverty Program that had transferred there from Duns Scotus College when it closed. There Br. Vince Delorenzo recalls that Luke and Mike would go out after a very strenuous day and putt golf balls onto an imaginary green of the backyard. No doubt with a bit of small talk and teasing. Br. Luke was there for 11 good years of semi-retirement that may have been closer to a full-time job at the Poverty Program. As his body began to diminish, he was transferred back to St. Clement Friary. And as his mobility lessened, he moved to St. Margaret Hall. Here, surrounded by the care of the Sisters and many others, he was able to enjoy as much TV sports as possible, still favoring his baseball games. It seemed to me in visiting him that they were kind of holy hours. Nothing could interfere. When I was able to cajole him to come down and join the friars for our annual picnic, organized by Br. Jerry Beetz, he was his old Luke-self, laughing and teasing others.
A number of weeks ago Br. Norbert Bertram told me that while chatting with Luke, Luke looked up at the crucifix and said that he hoped He would take him soon. Sounded like another wind-up and pitch, if you ask me. Recently in a visit he told me, "I’m ready to go". I think he was off the base, trying to steal home. With rosary in hand: "I give no thought to what lies behind but push on to what is ahead. My entire attention is on the finish line as I run toward the prize to which God calls me – life on high in Christ Jesus." Clearly, this was Luke’s energy.
Yes, he had a baseball addiction, but one that helped him on the road to his life with God. Waiting until after this year’s World Series, Luke stole home right into the Arms of the Great Umpire who called him in Safe! Oh, Luke was prepared, literally dying to join his Divine Thief, who loves to steal bases and hearts. But this Thief is also, strangely, the Master of the House. He gathered this servant at home base and proceeded to have him, Luke, the servant, recline at table, while he served up Hot dogs and cold beer here!
Luke, we, your brothers, will miss your wit, your charm, your funny way of getting us to do things you enjoyed. But we’re glad you made it home.