Br. Simon Peter: Very Much at Home


Justis Worrell

Br. Simon Peter Clayton, O.S.B., works as Director of Leahy House in addition to his duties as a monk at Newark Abbey.

Samuel Pineda, Staff Writer

A monk born and raised in Newark’s community will now spend the rest of his life there. Br. Simon Peter Clayton, O.S.B. ’08 is preparing to profess solemn vows to Newark Abbey.  Years of education, hard work, and soul-searching have led up to the religious ceremony that will take place Saturday, March 21

.”Before I came to Saint Benedict’s I had no idea of what a monk was,” Br. Simon said.

 He only became aware of what it meant to be a Catholic monk after learning about the lives of the Benedictine monks, many who taught him while he attended St. Benedict’s. 

 As a very young man, Br. Simon had no intention of devoting his life to being a Benedictine monk. But slowly, as he learned more both at Benedict’s and at St. Vincent College, he became more receptive to the idea.

Br. Simon grew up in a challenging  environment. He spent his childhood in a tough Newark neighborhood and was frequently called on to take care of his younger sibling.  In his home environment, he was exposed to lots of arguing by some family members. In summary, Br. Simon described his childhood as “dysfunctional.”

What got him through a lot of difficulties during the years he was in high school was the thoughtfulness of the monks, he said. They were very supportive and would occasionally take him to buy groceries for his household.

Becoming part of the monastic community has also been a learning experience.

“Coming into the monastery,”  explained Br. Simon, “I had to shift my line of thinking from doing whatever I wanted to do, to understanding that I’m committing myself to this community and committing myself to the needs of the community.”

Putting others’ needs ahead of his own was the hardest part of transitioning from his secular lifestyle to the ways of a monk. He continues to work on this aspect of his life on a daily basis, he said.

No life is without its challenges, Br. Simon said, noting that life in the monastery offers some of its own. Having to deal with the different personalities around the monastery is not always easy, he said. He does not get along with everyone, but he does try to solve all the differences he might have with an individual.

By using the philosophy, “If God can love you, I should try at least,” he attempts to appreciate fellow monks for the way they are, instead of the way he wants them to be. Br. Simon conceded that his personality may also offer challenges for other monks to deal with.

On the other hand, he said, one of the best aspects of being a monk is the happiness that comes from positive interactions and friendships built over time at the monastery. His friendship with Br. Asiel Rodriguez, O.S.B., is very strong  because they have been on parallel tracks taking the necessary steps to pursue monastic life. Both Simple Vows at the same service nearly three years ago. And both will profess their Solemn Vows together on Saturday.

He well understands the weight of his decision that will commit him to the Newark-based Benedictine monastery.

 “This is my home for the rest of my life,” he said. “I’m willing to grow. I’m willing to learn more and more about who I am as a human being and what that means.”

He also said he is clear about the idea that saying “yes” to this community is saying yes in obedience to his superiors. Br. Simon knows that there will be times where his superiors need him to do something for the good of the community that he might not want to do. With these vows, he said he is communicating his willingness to accept this and try his best to fulfill those requests. “Obedience is hard,” Br. Simon said.

Yet he said he will seek to obey as he knows that his superiors have his best interest at heart. He used to think that only he knew what was best for him. This was because no one else had lived his life so he believed their opinion might not be as informed. With time at the monastery, he has noted that this way of thinking could not help him progress as an individual or especially as a religious figure.  

Br. Simon’s religious formation will continue. “That level of discernment does not stop at Solemn Vows,” Br. Simon said. “So even though we are saying yes, we are going to marry this community. We are also saying, ‘Yes,’ just like in marriage. An ongoing  ‘Yes.’ “

He added: “I’m willing to continue the work at this, I’m willing to continue to learn how to love.” 

Following the ceremony, Br. Simon said he will continue to work on himself for the good of the community. These vows do not exempt him from working to improve the monastic community, he said. In fact, it persuades him to do otherwise. For Br. Simon, change starts within. There’s no use in trying to change others, he said, when he is all that he can change.

 “I can’t change people,” he said. “I can change the community. If I didn’t accept that, I think I would leave. The courage to change who I am, not the core of who I am, but more so conform myself to the community. Freedom comes from letting go of things that you don’t have control over.” 

“Br. Simon has been a mentor, a friend, helpful… he’s thoughtful,” said Justis Worell ’20, “He’s just there when you least expect it, or when you most need it.” Justis also said that Br. Simon was a big aid in helping him use his talents for a better purpose. Justis moved into the Leahy House three years ago which was when he met Br. Simon, and Justis explained that Br. Simon has had the same desire to have a positive impact in the boy’s life as when he first arrived.

One of Br. Simon’s main responsibilities is the Leahy House. Br. Simon lived in the Leahy House during his student time at Benedict’s and has now been charged with the leadership over it. This is something that keeps him busy but has a great effect on some guys lives. Many of the people that live in the house can recall multiple stories of Br. Simon’s generosity and his drive to help others.

The other monks are also grateful to the younger men. “Something that is so great about having them [Br. Simon and Br. Asiel] here is that they come here with a strong interest in community life.  When I first came here back in 1994, the emphasis was so much on the school and the other postulates,” explained Fr. Maximillian Buonocore, O.S.B. Fr. Max says that Br. Simon and Br. Asiel have really improved the energy of the monastic community, the energy the monks have towards each other. 

Br. Simon has been a help to his abbey in a number of ways, from encouraging more of a friendship between the monks, to helping out students who are in need, to taking charge with singing psalms during times of prayer. Br. Simon plans to take his vows for this community that he loves on Saturday, March the 21. His example should be one that is taken for inspiration.