Fr. Simon Patrick Gallagher
Tuesday, October 10, 2023
Obituary of Fr. Simon Patrick Gallagher
Fr. Simon Patrick Gallagher, O.S.B. returned home to the Lord shortly after midnight on October 10, in the Abbey Health Center. Fr. Simon had been in declining health for many years, and for the last six was a resident of the health center. As he had become an invalid, he required constant care, which was faithfully rendered by the nursing staff.
Fr. Simon was born in Orange, New Jersey, to Patrick and Winifred (née Moran), both born in Co. Mayo, Ireland. Fr. Simon had two sisters: Fran and Cathy, who were twelve and fourteen years older. The middle-class family lived in Maplewood, and were parishioners at St. Joseph Church, then staffed by the Benedictine monks of St. Mary's Abbey, later Newark Abbey. Here Fr. Simon encountered the monks who would educate him and inspire his vocation.
Fr. Simon attended St. Benedict's Prep, Newark, from which he graduated in 1962. After graduation, Fr. Simon matriculated at the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Ma., for one year. Next, he entered St. John's University, Collegeville, Minn., under the auspices of the monks of St. John's Abbey. He entered the novitiate at St. Benedict's Abbey, Atchison, Kansas, and pronounced simple vows July 11, 1965, as a monk of St. Mary's Abbey. Fr. Simon remained in Atchison for another year of college, which he then completed back in New Jersey at Seton Hall University.
The 1960s was a time of societal change and renewal within the Church ushered in by the Second Vatican Council. Monastic life was also caught up in this. Ordination to the priesthood was no longer considered the "norm" for monks. Abbot Martin Burne, in an effort to promote renewal, appointed Fr. Simon, non-ordained at the time, as subprior of the monastery in 1970, a position he held for several years. This was the first time a non-clerical monk would be appointed to leadership. Yet Fr. Simon eventually discerned that he was called to Holy Orders, and pursued theological studies at nearby Drew University, Madison, and Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, where he earned the M.Th. degree.
Fr. Simon was ordained priest March 24, 1973. His priestly ministry included service at various weekend missions, local convents, and wellwritten and insightful homilies, appreciated by his confreres at the Conventual Mass and those to whom he ministered in the local Church. After ordination, Abbot Leonard Cassell appointed Fr. Simon to serve as socius of novices, and to work in Delbarton School in various capacities, which would mark much of Fr. Simon's life for the next two decades. He taught both English and Religion and served as a dormitory prefect.
Former students recall Fr. Simon as intelligent. Fr. Simon also worked in the school's fundraising efforts, assisting Fr. Stephen Findlay with the computerization of the development office. Sadly though, within a short period of time, Fr. Simon would lose both of his parents, and older sister, Fran, to cancer. In 2016, Fr. Simon would also lose his sister, Cathy to Alzheimer's. Consequently, Fr. Simon was able to empathize with human suffering and grief. He would use that gift in a new ministerial opportunity as a hospital chaplain. He completed Clinical Pastoral Education at Clara Maas Hospital, Belleville. Fr. Simon worked as a chaplain at Benedictine Hospital, Kingston, New York, conducted by the Benedictine Sisters of St. Walburga Monastery, Elizabeth. Fr. Simon also ministered for a short time as a hospital chaplain in the diocese of Burlington, Vermont, and at Greystone Psychiatric Hospital, near St. Mary's Abbey.
Soon health issues began to curtail Fr. Simon's ministry. In the last twenty years of his life, Fr. Simon's physical ailments and his long addiction to alcohol would keep him from the company of his confreres. Regrettably, he became more and more reclusive, within the communal life at St. Mary's Abbey. There were times when Fr. Simon would engage in efforts at recovery from alcoholism, but not always as he might have wished.
Fr. Simon was intelligent and well-informed, and, at times, could be quite social and charming. His comments at chapter meetings were usually intelligent and insightful. Yet as his health declined, these qualities became less apparent, as he slowly disappeared into his suffering. By 2017, it became necessary for Fr. Simon to take up residence in the abbey health center. Curiously, the fiercely independent Fr. Simon would, in the last six years of his life, become increasingly more dependent on the round-the-clock care of the nursing staff. He became bedridden and unable to engage with visitors, or even attend the Sunday Mass each week in the health center's solarium.
Shortly after midnight on October 10, Fr. Simon let go of his frail, emaciated body and the long years of suffering. He quietly drifted off to sleep in the Lord. No words can express the gratitude owed to the nurses, who devoted themselves to Fr. Simon's care. Fr. Simon is survived by nieces and nephews.
Fr. Simon's body will be received at the abbey church on Sunday, October 15 at 4p.m., followed by Vespers of the Dead sung at 5 p.m. The Funeral Mass and interment in the abbey cemetery will take place on Monday, October 16 at 4 p.m. Donations in Fr. Simon's memory to support abbey capital improvements, monks' health care or abbey endowment may be made using the link: https://www.saintmarysabbey.org/support-us. Abbot Jonathan Licari and the monks of St. Mary's Abbey request the customary suffrages for our confrere, Fr. Simon.
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