William Simon, Jr.
Bill Simon’s idea of a good day is pretty simple: “A beautiful day is when I say a prayer, read a book, break a sweat, and help someone who can’t pay me pack. I usually sleep pretty well on those nights.”
This description has changed over the years with his maturing faith.
Growing up in New Jersey as the oldest of seven children, Simon graduated from Williams College and Boston College Law School. He was appointed Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, serving under Rudolph Giuliani.
In 1988, Simon co-founded the investment firm William E. Simon & Sons with his brother and their father, William E. Simon, Sr., former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. In 2017, the firm merged with Massey, Quick & Co. to become Massey Quick Simon, where he is a partner.
The family business brought Simon and his wife, Cindy, to Los Angeles in 1990, and twelve years later Simon ran for Governor of California. “I felt so blessed to be able to travel up and down the state, meeting people from all walks of life, hearing their issues and concerns, and being of service,” Simon recalls. “Even though I lost the election, it was a very positive experience.”
It took a couple of years for Simon to discern what God wanted him to do next. He came to realize “something was missing from my life, that maybe I didn’t have the balance quite right between family, faith, and career. I knew I had to give more of myself to the Church.”
In the course of his discernment, Simon spoke frequently with an old friend, the late theologian Michael Novak, who led him to a greater appreciation of the essential vocation of the laity. In 2011, they collaborated on a book, “Living the Call: An Introduction to the Lay Vocation”, to encourage lay greater lay participation in Church ministry and to provide guidance on how to prepare spiritually for service.
Two years later, Simon founded Parish Catalyst, an organization supporting innovation in parish ministry through a unique process of peer collaboration and research. Parish Catalyst’s initial research involving 244 parishes nationwide became the basis for Simon’s next book, the best-selling “Great Catholic Parishes: How Four Essential Practices Make Them Thrive.”
“In writing this book, I wanted to encourage parishes looking for creative solutions to familiar challenges,” Simon explains. “But I also wanted to show how Catholic parishes do meaningful and important work every single day.”
Simon has observed this first-hand at his own parish, St. Monica Catholic Church, where he has relied on the spiritual guidance of its long-time pastor, Monsignor Lloyd Torgerson.
Simon recollects one of his most profound moments at St. Monica’s, which occurred many years ago. Sitting towards the front on the left, he began to notice the faces of people coming back from Communion.
“There was so much diversity. White and black. Rich and poor. Old and young. Suddenly I was lost in the idea that despite our varied backgrounds, we were all part of the same cloth, this body of Christ we all speak about. I saw a living mosaic of God’s people, and I felt overcome with emotion. A Communion line that stretched back 2,000 years and around the globe, and we were part of it. God was speaking to me that day, not in words, but in spirit. I always try to sit in that same pew.”
In addition to teaching since 2011 in the Law School and Economics Department at UCLA, where last year the entire student body voted him Professor of the Year, Simon has served on many charitable boards. These include Catholic Charities of Los Angeles, the Catholic Community Foundation, Covenant House California, St. John’s Health Center Foundation, and Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. He is co-founder, with his wife, of UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind, which provides fitness resources to 130 middle and high schools in Los Angeles, impacting over 180,000 students annually.
In reflecting on his life, Simon says “I’ve always tried to do the next obvious thing. Today, that’s being of service to people. It helps that, by God’s grace, my wife is a compassionate, loving person, who encourages me to be the best version of myself.” The Simons have four grown children.
Simon received the call from Archbishop Gomez announcing he was to receive the Cardinal’s Award with typical humility.
“I was thrilled by the honor,” says Simon. “I’ve felt like a lucky guy for a very long time, for many reasons. But I’ve only been able to do the things I’ve done because I’m in the orbit where God wants me. This award is a wonderful validation that God is using me, as he is so many other faithful Catholics who seek to serve our beloved Church.”