After serving as pastor at a Marconi church for 25 years, the religious figure returns Saturday to celebrate his 90th birthday.
Saturday’s mass at St. Monica, 17th and Ritner streets, will be one of thanksgiving. It also will be a celebration of the 90th birthday of His Excellency Louis A. DeSimone, retired auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia.
“That’s the full title,” DeSimone said. “But if you were to address me like that I wouldn’t know who you were calling.”
The retired bishop, who currently lives in the rectory at St. Justin Martyr in Narberth with his brother, Russell, a retired Augustinian priest, will be coming back to the parish where he served as pastor for 25 years.
“The birthday is on Feb. 21st and the pastor there, the good Father [Joseph] Kelley, invited me to come down, not so much to have an ordinary birthday party but to celebrate mass and thanksgiving,” DeSimone said. “It’s the Saturday evening mass at 5 p.m. on Feb. 18. It’s more a mass of thanksgiving rather than a party.”
DeSimone returns to the area from time to time, but hasn’t been back to St. Monica in roughly two years. He is looking forward to celebrating with the parishioners he used to see on a daily basis.
“I don’t return that often, but Father Kelley invites me for every event. They are so good there, of course, if you know the good people of St. Monica,” he said. “I love to go back and say hello to good friends … When I was there over the course of 25 years, I knew many by their first name.”
The upcoming festivities will be time for the bishop to reconnect with the parishioners and pray with them, which he is most looking forward to. And though he can’t make every invite extended to him, the people of St. Monica convinced DeSimone to make the trip for this milestone.
“I was pushed and pulled and cajoled, not only by Father Kelley, but some of the parishioners. We will be praying together with the good people there,” DeSimone said. “I’m going to pray not only for thanksgiving and not for my own 90th birthday but for all the good people I’ve known over the years at St. Monica’s, especially those who are 90 and above.”
DeSimone was born in Philadelphia, but his family moved when he was very young to Bridgeport. The eldest of three boys, DeSimone and his family always lived a devout lifestyle.
“My mother and father were both very pious persons. They lived the Catholic faith exactly, if I may put it that way, making sure we said our prayers everyday and we received a Catholic education,” he said. “It was easy for us, really, to be called by the Lord. The Lord gave us the ambiance and the opportunity to become priests.”
Upon graduating high school, DeSimone went to Villanova University, where he studied law. His two younger brothers, including the youngest, Salvatore, both entered the seminary after high school.
“When the Second World War broke out, I enlisted in the army,” DeSimone, who was a sergeant, said. “In due time, I was sent overseas and I spent two years in the army in North Africa and Italy.”
DeSimone’s tour of duty ended in 1946 and he returned to Pennsylvania. He had left Villanova a semester shy of graduating, but he was prepared for bigger things.
“As soon as I got back I knew that was my calling, too: I went into St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in January of 1946,” DeSimone, who also managed to finish his credits and graduate with a bachelor’s degree that same year, said. “I was ordained a priest on May 10, 1952.”
He was sent to teach at St. Thomas More High School in Pottstown, then served as assistant pastor at West Philly’s St. Donato and Ss. Cosmas and Damian churches and in ’68 became pastor at the latter. In November ’76, he would be given his final assignment for the remainder of his career.
“I had been in St. Monica’s once or twice, not to work there or to be a part of the parish. I knew what it was like, but I never expected to be sent there — It was a very prestigious parish, very large parish. I like ‘large’ better; ‘prestigious’ makes it seem like we are fighting each other,” he said.
With three assistant pastors, DeSimone moved into St. Monica to be the pastor to the more than 5,000 families in the parish. Five years prior to his arrival, the community had suffered a devastating fire to the church and his first order of business was to continue the reparations.
“There was still some building to be done. My biggest task was to reinforce the good work of the Father [Aloysius F.X.] Farrell, my predecessor, who rebuilt the church and then retired,” he said. “I was to try and finish up what he was finishing. That required some good cooperation from everyone, which I readily got.”
A proponent of the “Let go and let God” adage, Rev. Richard Cannuli touts the rewards of opening hearts to inspiration.
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