It was a full church for the Saturday vigil Mass at St. Monica Church in South Philadelphia on Feb. 18 when retired Auxiliary Bishop Louis A. DeSimone returned as the parish honored him for his 90th birthday on Feb. 21. Bishop DeSimone, who was pastor of St. Monica’s for a quarter century before his retirement, will also celebrate his 60th anniversary of priesthood this year and has the distinction of probably being the only prelate with service in World War II in Europe as a sergeant with the 5th Army headquarters.
Commenting on the scriptural passage, “Remember not the events of the past; things of long ago,” he joked, “That’s easy for us senior citizens. We don’t remember what we had for breakfast or even if we ate it,” and “when we are at the bottom of the steps, do we have to go up or did we just come down? We old folks have to laugh; we can’t be depressed.”
He and his brother Russell, an Augustinian priest ordained a year ahead of him, live in the rectory of the former St. Justin Martyr Parish in Narberth, and Father Russell is the cook “when I prop him against the stove,” the Bishop quipped. “His recipes always start with olive oil and garlic, even if it’s apple pie.”
Old age, he said, “can be a burden, not so much to the body; we have to take care of the soul.”
His strong recommendation is prayer, and he and his brother begin the day with the celebration of Mass and usually continue by joining in the rosary as televised by EWTN at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.
He recalled with fondness the almost 25 years spent at St. Monica, “We were family,” he said. “I’ll never give up on St. Monica’s.”
“We have many other bishops, archbishops and even cardinal visit St. Monica’s,” said Father Joseph J. Kelly, St. Monica’s pastor. “There is only one person referred to as ‘the Bishop.’ I call him for everything. He laid the groundwork; all I do is follow the outline. He is always here, not physically, but his presence is felt.”
Deacon Leonard DeMasi remembers it was Bishop DeSimone who ordained him in 1993. “He was a joy to work with and to work for,” he said. “He did much to keep our school open by starting an endowment.”
Former Philadelphia Councilwoman Anna Verna is a member of Holy Spirit Parish, but she came to the Mass to honor Bishop DeSimone, Philadelphia’s first ever bishop of Italian heritage. “He is a wonderful man and he inspired many of us,” she said.
Josephine Pasquarella, a parishioner for 55 years, brought along a picture of the bishop with her taken years ago that she wanted him to autograph. “He’s the best, he’s my buddy and I miss him,” she said.