James Thole was born on April 21, 1935, and grew up in Moorhead, Minnesota, the second oldest of four children of Otto and Margaret (Acheson) Thole. His father was a bookkeeper for the local power company, and his mother was a homemaker. James attended Saint Joseph’s Parochial School (1941–1949).
In his novitiate biography, James wrote about his religious calling: “My own ideas about the religious life came in the early grades. While my first impressions of priests were those of reverential fear, I found the Benedictine sisters very enjoyable. As James progressed in his grades, his vocation grew until the time came for taking the first step.
Following the lead of his older brother, Father Thomas Thole, OSB, (1932-2016), James enrolled at Saint John’s Preparatory School (1949–1953) where he participated in dramatics and wrote for the school paper. “The Prep School was almost a social class up for me. My family was lower middle-class, and one thing I remember was never having dessert until I came to Saint John’s.” During the summer vacations, James delivered electric bills and read meters in homes.
Immediately following high school graduation, James enrolled in Saint John’s University. Two years later in 1955, he entered the novitiate of Saint John’s Abbey, receiving the religious name of Simeon.
Simeon made his first profession as a Benedictine monk in 1956, and his final solemn profession in 1959. He continued his education at Saint John’s University, graduating with a B.A. degree in 1958 with majors in philosophy and classics. Priesthood studies followed culminating in ordination in 1962.
From an interview in 2013, Father Simeon described his days in the clericate: “It was basically study and housework. During the summer, a deacon was made “work boss. “We would do housekeeping in the dormitories, grounds work, farm work, helped pour cement along the new monastic residential wing, sanded furniture in the woodworking shop, and slaughtered and dressed chickens.”
Father Simeon taught English and religion in Saint John’s Preparatory School (1962-1978). During the summers, he took graduate courses at Marquette University, Milwaukee, and earned an M.A. in English (1965). He also served as a prefect at the Prep School from 1963-1976.
Father Simeon spent a sabbatical year, 1977, in Tucson, Arizona, perhaps dedicated mostly to his writing. In addition to authoring two books on prayer and parental ministry, he wrote a novel in which the main character was called Peter Prep.
Father Simeon served as chaplain to the Sisters of Mount Saint Benedict Monastery, Crookston, Minnesota, from 1978-1981 as well as an instructor in English and Religion at Mount Saint Benedict High School. After two more years teaching in the Prep School, in 1983 he became a “monk in residence” and sacramental minister until 1991.
The sisters in Crookston reported that “Father Simeon’s insisted on being called a monk in residence with no expectation of compensation out of his sense of justice for women religious who are unable to have ordained ministers of the sacraments. His commitment to Benedictine community life was evident in the natural, happy, and respectful manner that he joined in the activities of this monastery. He strongly encouraged the sisters to accept appropriate liturgical leadership roles.
After five years as pastor of Saint John the Baptist Parish, Collegeville (1991-1996), Abbot President Melvin Valvano, O.S.B., asked Father Simeon to be the apostolic administrator of Saint Leo’s Abbey (Florida). “The chapter of Saint Leo’s voted down having an administrator, but I still was sent. They expected me to come in and be authoritarian, but my approach was discussion-based, and the community did listen to my suggestions. When I left things were going well. While I was there, I founded the Southeast Conference of Abbots which included Saint Leo’s Abbey, Belmont Abbey (North Carolina), Saint Bernard’s Abbey (Alabama), and Mary Mother of the Church Abbey (Virginia). We would meet for support and advising twice a year.”
Returning to Saint John’s in 2002, Father Simeon served as a spiritual director, giving conferences for the Benedictine Day of Prayer (2006-2016), secretary for the Abbey’s Senior Council (2003 to his death) , and celebrated Sunday Mass with the sisters at Saint Benedict’s Monastery, Saint Joseph, and Saint Paul’s Monastery, Saint Paul.
Father Simeon was a daily community solitaire card master and enjoyed regular walks around the Saint John’s property, a habit he developed early in his monastic life. For him, evening TV watching required a bowl or two of popcorn that he popped earlier in the day. He had a refined sense of humor, was especially thoughtful of the marginalized, and was most comfortable in the daily routines of community living. Many of his confreres appreciated Father Simeon’s well-crafted homilies and his faithful devotion to the monastic horarium.
Father Simon died on July 19 in the retirement center of Saint John’s Abbey. He is survived by his sister, Theresa Barrett, and his brother, Brother Otto Thole, OSB, a monk of Saint John’s Abbey, and the community at Saint John’s.
Abbot John Klassen, OSB
and the monks of Saint John’s Abbey