Russell J. De Simone, O.S.A.


1924 – 2014 (December 29)

December 29 is the anniversary for Russell J. De Simone, O.S.A.

Russell (Rosario) Joseph De Simone, was born on December 10, 1924, in Bridgeport, Pennsylvania, the son of Anthony and Nicolina Volpe DeSimone. He had two brothers, Salvatore, who became a priest of the Camden Diocese, and Louis, a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, who became Auxiliary Bishop there. Russell was baptized on December 12, 1924, at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Bridgeport. He attended Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish School, from 1930 to 1938, and Bridgeport High School, from 1938 to 1942. Following graduation from high school, he was accepted as a postulant at Augustinian Academy, Staten Island, New York, and was received into the Order as a novice on September 9, 1943. At the completion of his novitiate year at Good Counsel Novitiate, New Hamburg, New York, he professed first vows on September 10, 1944. He then attended Villanova College, where he received his BA degree in Philosophy in 1948. Russell was sent to Rome that same year where he pursued theological studies, first at Collegio Santa Monica, and then for three years at the Gregorian University, from which he received the STL degree in 1952. He professed solemn vows on September 10, 1947, and was ordained to the priesthood on November 18, 1951, in Rome, by Luigi Cardinal Traglia.

When he returned to the United States, Fr. Russell was first assigned to Saint John of Sahagun Friary and Archbishop Carroll High School, Washington, DC, where he taught, from 1952 to 1958. He then began a series of assignments in parishes of the Province: first as associate pastor at Saint Mary Parish, Waterford, New York, from 1959 to 1961; as associate pastor at Saint Nicholas of Tolentine Parish, Jamaica, New York, from 1961 to 1963; as associate pastor at Saint Rita of Cascia Parish, Philadelphia, from 1963 to 1969.

In 1969, Fr. Russell returned to Rome to complete studies for a doctorate in Patristics at the Augustinian Patristic Institute, Augustinianum. He received the STD in 1970 and returned to the United States with an assignment to Saint Thomas Monastery and Villanova University, where he began his long and effective teaching career. He also taught at the Augustinianum and the Angelicum in Rome, was Associate and Managing Editor of Augustinian Studies and the Augustinian Lecture Series, and Director of the Augustinian Institute at Villanova University. Fr. Russell was the author of several books and many articles for various journals and contributed to the series on the Fathers of the Church in English and a Dictionary of Patristics and Christian Antiquity in Italian. Beginning in 1987, he served as a chaplain at Haverford State Hospital, and assisted in various parishes, but continued teaching in Rome until 2000.

After retiring from teaching Fr. Russell lived and worked at Saint Justin Martyr Parish, Narberth, Pennsylvania, with his brother, Bishop Louis, an affiliate of the Order. During this time, Fr. Russ enjoyed gardening and cooking and accompanied the bishop in his ministry within the Archdiocese. Due to failing health, Fr. Russell moved to St. Thomas of Villanova Monastery in August, 2012. From that time until his death on December 29, 2014, just weeks after his 90th birthday, he was lovingly accompanied each day at community Mass and in the refectory by his brother, the bishop, whose care and devotion was an example to all. Despite his academic expertise and achievements, Fr. Russell remained always a humble man of great simplicity. 

A wake was held the evening of January 5, 2015 at the church of St. Thomas of Villanova on the campus of Villanova University. A funeral Mass followed, celebrated by Bishop Louis A. De Simone, who also gave the homily. Fr. Russell De Simone was buried the following morning at Calvary Cemetery in Conshohocken, Pa.

Homily for
Given by his brother, Bishop Louis A. De Simone, Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia (Ret.)

It was my brother’s request that I express his gratitude to Father Genovese, to Father Di Gregorio, to his Augustinian brothers and to all staff members and workers who cared for him in his illness. I add my own gratitude. I am also very grateful to Archbishop Chaput for his presence. Thank you, your Excellency, for honoring my brother and for reminding us that today is the Feast day of St. John Neumann, whose intercession we humbly seek. Thank you, too, Bishop Maginnis and Bishop McIntyre, brother priests, deacons and religious. And all good friends who are here.

And where are we? We just heard the prophet Isaiah call us to the mountain of the Lord, the Lord who wipes away tears and destroys death. In the gospel of St. John, we heard the Lord say, “I pray for them, so that they may be one, as you, Father are in me and I in you.”

At this point, Russ would say. “Great homily, stop right there.”- For two reasons: one: he thought that long homilies were long-suffering. And two, on this occasion he would be fearful of praise directed to him. Russ was a simple man. He was also a patristic scholar and professor. Instead of proceeding with the homily, I present a lesson he taught on one of his favorite Fathers, St. Ambrose, the great Bishop of Milan, who baptized St. Augustine into the Church.

The lesson consists of the words spoken by Ambrose at the funeral of his brother, Satyrus, in the year 375. The sentiments expressed by Ambrose indicate how much the Bishop depended upon his brother. Here are the words of Ambrose. Albeit not in sequence, since his homily was rather long.

He said, “We have brought here, beloved brethren, my sacrifice in the person of my brother. I have considered nothing in human relationships more priceless than such a brother, nothing worthier of my affection, nothing more dear. But I cannot be ungrateful to God. For it should be a cause for joy that I had such a brother, rather that a source of sorrow for having lost him. To have him was a gift, to have lost him was the price to be paid. Why then should I weep for you, dearest brother? I have not lost you. Before, we were inseparable in a bodily sense. Now we are undivided in our affection. For you abide with me. And you will abide with me forever. I never lived for myself alone, since the better part of both of us was in each other, yet we were both in Christ, in whom is the sum of all things and the portion of every individual.

What shall I do now? You alone were my comfort at home and abroad. You advised me, shared my cares, relieved my anxiety, dispelled my sadness, supported my actions. You assumed the role of teacher and advisor to the Bishop. My heart is filled with emotion as I recount your services and enumerate your virtues. What enjoyment was mine without you? Or yours without me? What experience did we not have in common? The appearance of one of us alone aroused the suspicion of some illness. So strange it seemed, to everyone, when we were apart! Who looked at you and did not imagine he saw me? How many made some remark to you, thinking they had spoken to me? What amusement I would get, when I would perceive that they had mistaken us! What a pleasant mistake. For there was nothing for me to be embarrassed about in either your words or deeds, and I was glad to have them ascribed to me.

Even now you are not separated from me. You are present to me everywhere, so that the total enjoyment of each other, which we could not have in this life, we now possess without interruption and in all places. Previously, we could not be together at all times and places but our images were always present in each other’s minds. These images have not disappeared even now, but they constantly recur.

I still have you, then, dear brother, and neither death nor time shall tear you from me. In the presence of the people, I bid you the last farewell. I bid you peace as you go to that common dwelling for us, and just as here we shared all things, so there let us not have divided rights.

We were never long separated from each other, and you always came to me on your return. Now, since you can no longer come back to me, I will go to you. And to you, Almighty God, I now commend a guileless soul. To you I offer my oblation. Receive favorably and kindly a brother’s gift, the sacrifice of your priest.”

End of lesson, but the beginning of a new life for a brother I dearly love.