Nurse and Mercy Associate strives to be the change she wants to see in the world

Louise Simon, 66

Louise Simon
Who she is: Nurse, local coordinator for Mercy Associates
Lives in: Forest Hills, N.Y.

Sr. Camille: Some years ago, you introduced yourself to me at a meeting sponsored by Catholic Charities and said you would like to join in the effort I was promoting. Would you please tell our readers the when, where and what of that connection?

Simon: That was about 13 years ago. You were speaking at a women's spirituality retreat day at Molloy College. I sat listening to you speak about your experiences working against the death penalty and your relationship with a prisoner on death row. I was so inspired by what you were doing I knew that I had to speak with you. This was not something I was used to doing, approaching someone and being so bold as to say I wanted to be part of the work they were doing. It was something I felt compelled to do.

What motivated your interest?

I had always felt very strongly about the death penalty and a feeling that there was something that could be done to put an end to it. The thought of taking a human life was horrifying to me, but up until that point, I had not found an outlet for my desire for activism. I had done some justice and peace work with Catholic Charities, but it did not feel as if I was doing all I could. I believed there had to be something more I could do.

Where has that exchange led you?

I became a member of the Cherish Life Circle. Over these past years, I have written many times to David Paul Hammer, who is incarcerated in a federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind. I have also, on a few occasions, written on his behalf.  The Cherish Life Circle has been active in promoting the Christmas cards for which David has provided the artwork. The proceeds from the sale provide funds to organizations that work with children at risk. We also have our yearly prayer service for the families of murder victims. This is always such a moving experience, hearing the stories of incredible loss, grief, hope and faith. It's an honor and a privilege to be a small part of the day.

What have you learned from this involvement?

Each of us has the ability to make a contribution to whatever we believe in and to make a difference. "Be the difference you want to see in the world" says it all. It is how I try to live each day.

What have you been able to promote because of it?

The Christmas card sales, of course, and the prayer day. It has also provided opportunities to talk about Catholic social justice and the death penalty. Hopefully, these have given people something to consider and perhaps change some hearts and minds.

What was your childhood like?

I was very shy as a child and I had a lot of fears. The dark was especially frightening. I was fortunate to have loving, patient parents who helped me overcome the fears. By the time I was in high school, my shyness had all but disappeared.

Where and with whom did you live?

I was born in Manhattan, and for the first few years, we lived in Spanish Harlem. When I was about 5, we moved into a two-family house in Woodside, Queens. We were an extended family. My parents, my brother and I lived on the first , and my grandparents, aunt, uncle, a great-aunt and two cousins lived upstairs. We shared meals every evening and other family members would visit on weekends. It was wonderful growing up surrounded and cared for by so many loving family members.

What schools did you attend?

I went to St. Sebastian's School in Woodside from first to eighth grade then to Mater Christi High School. Later on, I attended Queensborough Community College.

Did you have role models?

My father. He was a very outgoing, loving man who had a great sense of compassion for people. He was friendly and kind to everyone he met. I learned a great deal from him. My mother's brother, Raul, owned a bar during the years of segregation. Whenever we visited, I saw how he treated everyone equally, with respect and dignity despite the rules of separation. When segregation ended, he was one of the first owners to take down the walls of division. I have never forgotten that, and I believe it was one of the defining moments that shaped my beliefs.

What inspired you to become a nurse?

In the mid-1960s, there were still limited roles for women: teaching, secretarial work, nursing, religious life or marriage. I had been a candy striper in high school, and I was moved by the suffering I saw and the compassion and care that was given by the nurses. I knew that was something I wanted to be a part of.

Can you cite any particular time when you felt particularly useful as a nurse?

There have been many, but sitting with someone who has just received a difficult diagnosis and being present to that person, offering support, comfort and counseling is for me the most satisfying. Newly diagnosed HIV patients are the ones with whom I've had the most moving experiences.

Please say something about your own family.

I was married twice. My first husband is a business owner, and my second husband is a physician. I have four grown sons. Two are married, one is single, and the fourth is in a relationship. I have two grandchildren, James Gunner, 5, and Hudson Victoria, 1. Two of my sons and their families live in other states. My one daughter-in-law in Texas is quite ill with cancer, so it is difficult for them to travel here. I visit with my other son and his family twice a year in Minnesota.

What is your favorite Scripture passage?

Matthew 25.

Why is it particularly meaningful?

Our faith calls us to follow in Christ's footsteps. This passage tells us clearly how to do that, how to treat others so that we live a compassionate and mercy-filled life.

Where do you find spiritual collaborators?

In my Mercy Associates' prayer group and with the members of the Cherish Life Circle. These are faith-filled women and men with whom I share my faith and where I receive inspiration, support and friendship.

What is your image of God?

As a loving parent who is always with us.

Has it changed?

Yes. As a child, I was afraid of God. Some of the priests and sisters spoke of an angry, judgmental God who punished us when we sinned. There seemed to be a very long list of sins that we had to avoid if we wanted to be saved, to go to heaven and be with our families. It was frightening to think of the separation from them and God. For a fearful child, it was not easy. When I was in high school, everything changed. The focus was no longer on our sinfulness; it was on a loving, compassionate God. My understanding of God matured as I did.

 What about your faith is most meaningful to you?

I never feel alone. I know that God is always with me. It gives me a great sense of peace and comfort.

Is there any spiritual activity that is particularly satisfying for you?

Personal prayer, a conversation with God each morning that starts my day. I begin with Catherine McAuley's Suscipe followed by whatever is in my heart or on my mind. It sets the tone for the rest of my day.

Would you like to share that prayer with our readers?

Of course!

My God, I am Yours for time and eternity.
Teach me to cast myself entirely
into the arms of your loving Providence
with the most lively, unlimited confidence
in your compassionate, tender pity.
Grant me, o most merciful Redeemer, that
whatever you ordain or permit may be acceptable to me.
Take from my heart all painful anxiety.
Suffer nothing to sadden me but sin, nothing to delight me
but the hope of coming to the possession of You,
my God and my all, in Your everlasting Kingdom. Amen.

What most influenced your belief system?

The Sisters of Mercy. For the past 50-plus years, they have been with me, beginning in high school and at most of the pivotal times of my life. They are women whose deep faith, joy for living and charism are the example of how I want to live my life.

What do you want from Catholicism?

Leadership that truly follows the teachings of Christ. Pope Francis is a wonderful example.

What causes you sorrow?

Injustice and cruelty.

What causes you joy?

The laughter of children. My family.

What gives you hope?

The innate goodness of people.

Is there anything else you would want us to know?

Being a Mercy Associate for nearly 20 years has led me on a faith journey that I would otherwise not have experienced. It has taught me much about myself and my faith and has brought wonderful people into my life. I am deeply grateful.

[Mercy Sr. Camille D'Arienzo, broadcaster and author, narrates Stories of Forgiveness, a book about people whose experiences have caused them to consider the possibilities of extending or accepting forgiveness. The audiobook, renamed Forgiveness: Stories of Redemption, is available from Now You Know Media.]

Editor's note: We can send you an email alert every time Sr. Camille's column, Conversations with Sr. Camille, is posted. Go to this page and follow directions: Email alert signup.

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