Father Earl Simonson, ‘pope of Nordeast,’ dies at age 89

| June 13, 2019 | 0 Comments

Father Earl Simonson, pictured in 2017, served Catholics for 42 years in northeast Minneapolis. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

A priest who served 42 years in northeast Minneapolis died June 11. Father Earl Simonson was 89.

“He was jokingly called the ‘Pope of Nordeast,’” said Quang Nguyen, 45, a member of Holy Cross in Minneapolis, which as a result of a 2012 merger also includes the campuses of St. Hedwig, St. Clement, and St. Anthony of Padua at Catholic Eldercare.

Father Simonson was pastor of St. Clement from 1977 to 2012, then pastor emeritus of Holy Cross until his death. This year marked his 50th anniversary of priesthood.

Nguyen, who has attended Mass at St. Clement since his childhood, said Father Simonson’s homilies were gentle and engaging, and they challenged him to grow in his faith.

“He talked to us, not at us,” said Nguyen, a stay-at-home father who had two of his three children baptized by Father Simonson. “He resonated with young and old.”

Nguyen said Father Simonson regularly gave money to beggars who sought help at the church.

Father Spencer Howe, Holy Cross’ parochial administrator who will become the parish’s pastor July 1, said Father Simonson “gave his whole self (and) his whole life to the service of the people.”

Father Simonson was born in Decorah, Iowa, but his family moved to St. Paul when he was an infant.

He worked on a farm as a high school student in southern Minnesota during World War II. There, he lived with a devout Catholic couple who introduced him to Catholicism, and he was baptized at age 16.

He entered seminary at age 39, and he was ordained in 1969 by Archbishop Leo Binz at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul.

Father Simonson ministered at St. Charles Borromeo in St. Anthony from 1969 to 1973, St. Luke in St. Paul from 1973 to 1975 and Presentation of Mary in Maplewood from 1975 to 1977.

He was parochial administrator of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Minneapolis in addition to his service at St. Clement from 1977 to 1983. He also served as canonical administrator of Northeast Regional Catholic School in Minneapolis, now St. Pope John Paul II Catholic School, from 1998 to 2001.

A 5-10 p.m. prayer vigil will be held June 20 for Father Simonson at St. Clement. It will include a 7:30-8:30 p.m. prayer service.

The funeral Mass will be at 11 a.m. June 21 at St. Charles Borromeo. Interment will be at Resurrection Cemetery in Mendota Heights.

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Category: Local News, Obituaries