For many years, Eileen went to Fr. Raphael Simon, ocso for spiritual direction. She very rarely mentioned him publicly, except during her annual Priests Retreat. Fr. Raphael was deeply spiritual, and highly intellectual. I had the blessing of getting to know him from my many years on the Board of Directors of MtFM, and weekly meetings with him in the last two years of his life. Fr. Raphael’s life and qualities give insight into Eileen.
The following is taken from the holy card given out at his funeral.
Father Raphael, OCSO
(Kenneth Alwyn Simon)
August 6, 1909 – November 12, 2006
St. Joseph’s Abbey
Entered Religious Life December 10, 1940
Professed November 1, 1943
Ordained Priest May 31, 1947
Father Raphael began his final passover as the Jewish Sabbath was moving into the Christian one, expiring in his bedroom in the Abbey infirmary as the monks were chanting Sunday Lauds the morning of November 12, 2006. The day dawned through a thick mist cloaking the landscape in an ambiguous blur, a sort of nebulous irony in cutting contrast to a life lived with disciplined intent and clarity of purpose. As though to rectify an anomaly, bright sunshine soaked the mourners for the burial rite in the Abbey cemetery.
Kenneth Alwyn Simon was born to Reformed Jewish parents in New York City on August 6, 1909, the Feast of the Transfiguration in the Christian calendar as it happens, and a synergy Father Raphael would later look upon as a singer blessing.
A graduate of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, he spent his study year abroad devouring Aristotelian philosophy at the university of Berlin. Post-graduate work followed at the University of Chicago where, in 1934, he earned a medical degree, with recognition in the field of clinical psychiatry.
His years in Chicago, under the tutelage of Dr. Mortimer Adler, the force behind the Great Books program, immersed him in brilliant interactions with intellectual titans. His probing mind once introduced to the philosophical thought of St. Thomas Aquinas reasoned that philosophy could lead to the knowledge of God and consequently to an ordered understanding of the universe and of man. Indeed, at Chicago he established both lasting friendships and a deeper thirst for the mystery of God. So it was that in 1936 he received baptism in the Roman Catholic Church.
Internships as Oak Park Hospital in Chicago and Bellevue Hospital in New York, and a psychiatric residency at a boys’ school, only served as distractions from this thirst for the transcendent and by the end of 1940 he had entered the Trappist Monastery of Our Lady of the Valley in Lonsdale, Rhode Island.
Over the years his monastic commitment deepened. He pronounced temporary vows on November 1, 1943 and solemn vows November 6, 1946. In 1947 he was ordained to the priesthood. That same year he published his memoirs, The Glory of Thy People, which was followed in 1987 by Hammer and Fire, a lengthly treatise on contemplative prayer, ministry and mental health. He served by turns as father master of the brothers, both professed and novices and, once the community had transferred to Spencer, as directory of vocations, director of Trappist Preserves, dean of the junior professed and editor of saint Joseph’s Abbey Newsletter. he is also numbered among the founders of Spencer’s foundation at Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virginia. But it was his enduring prowess as a counselor to Abbots and superiors, confessor, retreat master and spiritual director for which he is most remembered and loved, having enriched the lives of his Spencer brothers, his nieces … and their families, as well as many devoted friends and followers, among them Eileen George, whom he helped with her “Meet the Father” ministry, … .
With the passage of years Father Raphael’s health, a perennial teeterboard, grew increasingly grave though he remained resolutely undaunted even becoming more cheerful and productive. In his late nineties he was better versed in the latest computer technology than many people half his age. Moreover, a child-like simplicity grew in him that, while not supplanting the mechanics of his intellect, overlay it with an innocent sweetness, palpable, obedient, quietly assured, framing the living illustration of his own words written years earlier: “To fall in love with God is the greatest of all romances; to seek Him, the greatest adventure; to find Him, the greatest human achievement.”