When Jack Simeone retired from Catholic Charities as chief program officer in September 2021, it ended a long career at the organization that began with a phone call from Sister Maureen Joyce, RSM, in 1979. During his four-plus decades at Catholic Charities, Simeone has been instrumental in expanding the reach of the organization into outlying counties (outside of Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer and Saratoga) through the earlier work of Community Maternity Services, where he first started and later became associate executive director.
When Jack Simeone retired from Catholic Charities as chief program officer in September 2021, it ended a long career at the organization that began with a phone call from Sister Maureen Joyce, RSM, in 1979. During his four-plus decades at Catholic Charities, Simeone has been instrumental in expanding the reach of the organization into outlying counties (outside of Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer and Saratoga) through the earlier work of Community Maternity Services, where he first started and later became associate executive director.

When Jack Simeone retired from Catholic Charities as chief program officer in September 2021, it ended a long career at the organization that began with a phone call from Sister Maureen Joyce, RSM, in 1979. During his four-plus decades at Catholic Charities, Simeone has been instrumental in expanding the reach of the organization into outlying counties (outside of Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer and Saratoga) through the earlier work of Community Maternity Services, where he first started and later became associate executive director. Simeone — who has two children, twins Sarah (40) and Rachel (40) from his first marriage and three, Rebecca (31) and twins Matthew (29) and Dominic (29), with his wife Christine — is a member of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Delmar and still works 10 hours a week on special projects and assignments with Catholic Charities. Simeone sat down with Mike Matvey of The Evangelist to talk about his upbringing, his love of the piano, and his life philosophy in this latest edition of Catholic Voices.

TE: Where were you born?
JS:  I was born in Brooklyn in a working class, ethnic neighborhood shaped by Italian, Irish, German and Jewish cultures. I went to a nearby Catholic elementary school (Good Shepherd) which was run by the Dominican Sisters. I think in the fifth grade is when I decided that I wanted to volunteer to be an altar boy, and who knew that this first volunteer opportunity would be one of many more to come. I went onto a Catholic high school, namely Nazareth, and that required taking three city buses and walking about 10 city blocks. That high school community made an incredible impact on my life through my adolescent years and beyond.

TE: So Catholicism was a huge part of your family?
JS:  My parents were first-generation Italian Americans. So my grandfathers, father and virtually every one of my uncles were all longshoremen. While none of them were ever churchgoers, my aunts and my mother would attend church. But even when we would go to church back then, the church was filled with the first- through eighth-grade students. The parents attended a different Mass at the same time which was held in the basement of our school. In our family, our Italian-American culture and Catholic religion were so intertwined and ingrained. Sundays were “sacred days” for my two younger sisters and my parents. Every Sunday at 2 o’clock was supper at grandma and grandpa’s house, and that’s where you saw a lot of your cousins, aunts and uncles. It was all part of the institution of being family.

TE: What was your first religious memory?
JS:  In grammar school, I have very vivid memories of being taught Latin so that I could fluently speak the language during the entire Mass (as an altar boy) prior to the onset of Vatican II. I still remember getting to school by 6:30 a.m. because lessons would be from 6:30 to 7:30. That was really a cherished memory because I was surprised that I could recite any segments of the Mass in Latin. 

TE: What impact did your high school have on you?
JS:  I went to Nazareth High School, 2,000 boys. The Xaverian Brothers ran that school, and it really was a mix of lay teachers and brothers comprising the faculty. I would say that they left an indelible imprint that stays with me today. The faculty of that school took such a personal interest in us as teenagers, not just as an academic student, but how we were developing in our faith and our concern for others. I remember I was a sophomore, so I was 15, and I had Brother Martin Moran for religion class. And one day he calls out my name in class (and says), “I want to see you at 3 o’clock” and you think you are in deep trouble. So I went to see him, and he was complementary of traits that he saw in me that I didn’t see in myself. He kept saying, “I would hate for you to go through high school selling yourself short.” He would say to me, “I see a lot of potential in you in terms of being a Christian leader in our school and thereafter.” And that sentiment was echoed by a number of other faculty. I could see how they were believing in me more than I was believing in myself. After a while, I took it seriously. I didn’t have that image of myself as they initially did, but then I started to really get involved in extracurricular activities as well as a new retreat program. After a while, I started to see what they saw.

TE: What program was that?
  It was a retreat program for high school youth, and in today’s terms, we would call it “The Emmaus Retreat.” It was based on the Cursillo Movement, which was geared for adults, but there was a program designed just for adolescents. I went on that four-day weekend when I was 17; in many ways, it was so transformative for me. Later on, the director of the program asked me to work on the next team. I would give a talk and serve as a discussion leader. From 1968 all the way to today, I am still actively involved in that retreat program here in the Albany Diocese. 

TE: So you started the Emmaus program in the Diocese?
 A friend of mine who went to Nazareth and then SUNY Albany actually started the Emmaus program for college students in this Diocese. A year later when I moved to Albany from Chicago, I joined him. For two years, we enlisted a team from the Brooklyn Diocese until we had enough students from Albany to comprise our own team. That program is now in its 48th year here in our Diocese where I serve as one of the spiritual directors. Working on that retreat year after year and seeing how students and young adults evolve in their faith and then sustain themselves as a Christian community in college — it is just remarkable to watch.

Simeone went to Marist College, majored in mathematics and theology and was active in the Campus Student Union to the point that he was elected to serve as the president of the College Union in his junior and senior years. He worked for the New York City Urban Corps in the summers, and when he graduated in 1973, he joined the Marist Lay Volunteer program and was assigned to teach math and religion at a Catholic high school on the South Side of Chicago. While in Chicago, Simeone was also part of a new city initiative that helped adults (who were not able to pass their GED) enroll in a more traditional classroom program in the evening to achieve their high school diploma. He taught math two even­ings a week, and this was the beginning, until 2015, of steadily working a second job.

TE: How did you make your way to Albany?
 While living in Chicago, I got called by a former Marist faculty/staff person who was obtaining his Ph.D. at SUNY Albany in counseling. He called me up about four times that year saying, “Jack, you should really apply to this graduate program at SUNY Albany. If you get in, it’s a full scholarship for two years.” It was pretty competitive; they only accepted 20 people and it consisted of a course load of 60 credits which included the summer semesters. But there was no tuition expense. So, I applied and on May 1, I get a letter of admission with a full two-year scholarship. At that point it was like “maybe this is providential.” Should I really change careers and take this leap of faith?  I decided to do it with the intent of returning to Chicago upon completion of the degree. That June we got in the car, drove 900 miles, rented an apartment on Manning Boulevard in Albany, and went to grad school for the next two years. (Simeone received a master’s degree in Counseling and an Education Specialist certification). Upon graduation, SUNY Albany offered me a job in the Student Affairs department which I gladly accepted.

TE: Talk about the phone call from Sister Maureen Joyce.
 Which then brings us to April of 1979, just around Easter. I get a call from a Sister of Mercy, namely Sister Maureen Joyce, who was the executive director of Community Maternity Services of Catholic Charities. So, I am in my office at SUNY Albany with one of my staff whom I was supervising, and I get this call, “This is Sister Maureen Joyce. Is this Jack Simeone?”
“Well Catholic Charities has received their first-ever governmental grant from the New York State Department of Social Services, and your name came up as someone who can effectively launch and direct this rural outreach program.”
I ask, “What is your name?” 
She replies, “Sister Maureen Joyce.”
“I have never met you.”
“No, but I know someone anonymously who has recommended that we talk to you.”
I said, “Sister Maureen Joyce, where is this job?”
In her endearing voice, she says, “Delhi in Delaware County, Oneonta in Otsego County and Cobleskill in Schoharie County.”
At this point the person I am supervising is like five feet away, and I pull this map out of my desk. I said, “Sister Maureen, I have never heard of Delhi. I know in Cobleskill there is a Howe Caverns, and in Oneonta, the New York Yankees have a farm team there. What is Catholic Charities trying to do out there?”
“There is a vision to bring our human services beyond the Capital Region, and so we really want to develop some adolescent pregnancy services to youth and their families who reside in Schoharie, Otsego and Dela­ware counties. We got a three-year grant to do just that. So, we need to establish three rural offices, develop a support network and hire three social workers.”
And I so naively ask, “Who is we?”
“The person that we hire as the program director,” Sister Maureen replies. At that point, I ask, “Can we continue this conversation in person?” She said, “Yes, the address is 29 North Main Ave., across from the Brady Building (now known as the Pastoral Center). ”

TE: How did that meeting go?
 A week later I show up at 29 North Main, and I get greeted by 11 pregnant teenagers; it’s a maternity group home. Sister Maureen comes out of her bedroom/office on the first floor, greets me and says, “Why don’t we meet and talk over there?” So, there I was — with Sister Maureen and her two dogs and I am this professional clinician/administrator at SUNY Albany with a master’s in counseling talking to a Sister of Mercy about three rural counties where they are looking for someone to establish maternity services in the name of Catholic Charities in those very rural communities. 
I was there an hour and a half, and I remember saying, “Thank you very much, Sister Maureen; this was very educational for me, but I really like my job at SUNY Albany.” And then she goes on to say, “I thought we were going to have a start date before you left?” I said, “Sister Maureen, I don’t have a single course credit in social work, and this outreach project is about teenage pregnancy, maternal and child health services … can you give me a week to think and discern about this; it’s somewhat out of my league.” I prayed about it, thought about it, and decided maybe I should really be open to this offer. Perhaps this is an unexpected way to respond to the Gospel. 

TE: How did your co-workers at SUNY react?
  When I told the Dean of Students that I was leaving, my five peers were all like, “You really need a psychiatric evaluation. You are taking a cut in pay, and you are giving up a New York State pension!” But after a week, I returned to Sister Maureen’s office, and said, “I am not sure just why, but I will accept the position.” My work colleagues at SUNY were looking at me like, “Are you thinking straight because if you change your current trajectory here at SUNY, you may never have this opportunity again.” (Simeone had already been promoted twice in three years at SUNY)  I said, “No, this is something that I need to do right now.” That was April 23, 1979, 43 years ago, and I never doubted that decision.

TE: Talk about your work at Catholic Charities
  I have truly loved the work of Catholic Charities, that is, the countless works of mercy, compassion and justice that are provided every day to individuals and families in our Diocese by the staff and volunteers who so uniquely treat our various constituents with the utmost respect and grace. Being a part of this CC family has brought me insight about the way we can be thoughtful to others who are facing difficult hardships in their lives. And in doing so, our personal overtures and professional services demonstrate so visually how a generous heart can sometimes alter the impoverished conditions that often immobilize others. 
During my tenure here in Albany, I am sometimes asked about what’s the most “unique” aspect for me … When reflecting back to the different positions I held in those 43 years, I can truly say that I was given the opportunity to assume newly created job positions, and all eight positions at CC were established for the first time when I was appointed to them. In the ’80s and ’90s, Charities was really expanding its landscape within the 14 counties. And I was fortunate to be a part of the leadership here at CC that envisioned and implemented these initiatives so that we could reach more people in our Diocese. Our programs and services were also being designed to a greater radius than ever before in a concerted effort to help more people, young and old.

As Simeone decided that Catholic Charities would be his career, he went back to school and got his Ph.D. in social work from the University of Albany in 1993, coincidentally the day his twin boys were born. Again, his work ethic was on display as he taught mathematics on behalf of Sage College at the Coxsackie Maximum Security Prison from 1975-85 and then later at Hudson Valley Community College where he taught human service courses two nights a week.

TE: In the early 1990s, you became a part-time clinician at Family and Children Services in Albany?
  Family and Children Services of the Greater Capital Region had a counseling program, and I was approached to be one of their therapists, like for two nights a week. So, at that time I concluded my teaching at Hudson Valley CC, and then from 1992 to 2015, I was counseling clients. I just loved working with people who were trying to make some type of improvement or change in their lives. Interestingly enough, when I ended my counseling career in 2015, I decided to count how many clinical sessions I conducted over the 23-year span there … to my surprise, it added up to 10,000 counseling sessions. (60 percent of these cases involved married couples/committed couples and 40 percent were individuals).

TE: Where did this work ethic come from?
The work ethic definitely came from my mom and dad. My dad (Dominick) as a longshoreman would get up at 5:30 a.m., be gone by 6 a.m., and would come home around 5:30 p.m. At the Brooklyn piers, he unloaded container ships and a lot of times he would call home and say to my mother, “We (the longshoremen) are still waiting for the ship to come in and I might not be home until 3 in the morning.” My dad was also an all-in-one skilled craftsman — he was a woodworker, cabinetmaker, plumber, electrician, mason and gardener as we watched him freelance on weekends to do side job projects with my uncle. I could see how he was trying to supplement his full-time income. And my mother (Theresa) initially worked at a dry cleaner and then eventually at a dentist’s office who was looking for an administrative assistant. We saw our mother work as his receptionist, bookkeeper and his dental assistant. My sisters and I always knew that our mother was smart and versatile albeit she never finished high school. 

TE: Talk about how Working at Catholic Charities has been much more than a job.
 I always felt like there was this calling to do things that I never imagined could be done. That leap of faith that I took back in April of 1979 kept renewing itself and strengthening my belief that unimaginable things — that might seem out of our reach — are actually possible, and that people can improve their life conditions and become less burdened. That was very evident in the work done by Charities, whether we were serving people in the inner city or in rural communities. As the chief program officer, a fair percentage of my time was spent in the field. One day I might be working with our staff in maternal and child health or with other staff who were trying to help others meet their most basic needs, like finding housing for the homeless. On another day, I might be conferring with our leadership staff in Domestic Violence as they so resolutely worked with women and children in securing safe housing and other support services especially during times of crisis. Starting a food pantry or establishing Emergency Assistance Services in multiple areas of our Diocese might take blocks of time from my schedule, but the outcomes derived from such pilot projects or new initiatives made it all worth the extra effort. For me to be able to go to our offices and sites in Hudson, Oneonta, Herkimer, Schenectady or Amsterdam to work with our leadership staff was refreshing and reassuring because I got to see firsthand the difference that our volunteers and staff make in trying to help people to get to a “better place.” I treasure what I have seen from the empathic ways our staff enter people’s lives and how they treat them regardless of the presenting problems. I feel blessed that I have been able to be part of that ethos here at Charities.

TE: Thoughtfulness is very important to you.
 If there is one personal characteristic that keeps me steady in my relationships with my colleagues, my friends and neighbors, with my immediate and extended family, and with my dear spouse, it’s being thoughtful. I would highlight that notion in bold. If you go about your day with a sense of thoughtfulness, it will be reflected in having a generous heart which often leads to small and large acts of kindness to others in our lives. That thoughtfulness is also going to lead you to follow-up on a dialogue that you had with someone just the other day or week. It conveys to others that they are on our radar. What does that mean? For that other person, at least for a while, they may not feel so alone especially during more stressful times that we all experience from time to time. If we could respond to people with thoughtfulness, it will bring our relationships with our family, our friends and people we are serving within or beyond our parish community to a better place. When I think about being thoughtful, it makes me look at life as being very sacred. I see how our staff who espouse to the values of mercy, compassion and justice meet people where they are in that very moment and how they try to assist them in finding ways and strategies that might unburden or, at the very least, lighten their present struggles.

TE: Of all the work you have done at CC, is there one thing that stands out?
 Around 1985, our Diocese had a vision to establish a comprehensive human sexuality curriculum/teaching manual in our 50 elementary schools, our seven diocesan high schools, and our 200 parish religious education (faith formation) programs. We wanted our teachers/catechists in our schools and parishes to have a resource readily available to them to use in kindergarten to the 12th grade that embodied the values of our Church and spoke about human sexuality in a very age appropriate and respectful way. The outcome was threefold: three curriculum/manuals were written — a book for K-8 for the grammar schools, another book for 9-12th grades for high schools, and a third book tailored for our catechists who were teaching youth from kindergarten through the 12th grade. In total, 500 pages were authored by a team directed by me in my new role.
The former Family Life Office, the Catholic School Office, and the Religious Education (Faith Formation) Office, and Community Maternity Services of Catholic Charities were jointly committed to the design and implementation of this diocesan-wide initiative. To accomplish this interdepartmental objective, I was appointed to serve as the director of Family Life Education. And I clearly recall that before we executed it full scale, we designed a parent education program in human sexuality whereby parents participated in two-to-three nights of informative sessions which were taught by a core team under my direction. For me, that four-year project from 1985-89 was such an amazing hallmark accomplishment which involved different diocesan departments which demonstrated such a spirit of collegiality. (After its completion, the teaching manuals were requested by 40 dioceses and a dozen countries).

TE: How did your love of piano start?
 I was the oldest grandchild, and so for my first 10 years, my parents rented an apartment in Brooklyn, however in the basement there was a player piano, which was called a payola. So, when I was 7, I started taking piano lessons; they were $3 for an hour-long lesson. However, at age 9, after renting for 10 years, my mom and dad were finally able to buy a house of their own where we lived on the first floor along with tenants renting from us on the second floor and basement. To my chagrin, the piano stayed in the rental apartment building when we moved into our house, and I never touched another key for the next two years. Nonetheless, at age 11, I went to my paternal grandfather and said, “Grandpa, how about for all of the rest of the years ahead for my birthdays, my Christmases, Easters, graduations, and other ceremonies, you just give me one gift now that I will cherish for the rest of my life?” He said, “What gift?” I so innocently replied, “A spinet piano … I really want to play the piano again.” They were like the least expensive piano you could buy at the time. The following Saturday we went to A&S — Abraham and Strauss — in downtown Brooklyn, and my dear grandfather (whose real name is Gioacchino — English translation — Jack) bought me a Wurlitzer spinet. In 1962, when he bought me this spinet, I was in awe of my grandpa’s generosity for his family. FYI: To this day, I still play.
Throughout college, Simeone played in coffee houses, bars and at cocktail parties for the faculty, and more recently has composed about 10 different piano instrumentals for his children and extended family which he has played at their wedding services.
And now to the very end of the story. When I turned 40, 50, and 60, I told my wife, Christine, that when I turn 70 or retire, I am buying myself the smallest baby grand available and affordable because for the past 50 years I have been playing a used upright piano in my home. So I retired Sept. 1 — and also turned 70 — and the following month I purchased a small baby grand which sits in a beautiful sunroom in my Delmar home. The sounds that emanate from that piano are just astounding. Going all the way back to 1962, the generosity of my grandfather became “the gift that keeps giving.”

TE: What is your life philosophy?
 If you were to ask what would be the one proverb that I would live by, it’s this quote that I remember hanging up at one of our inner city sites. This particular quote is frequently associated with Martin Luther King, and I try often, although at times unsuccessfully, to live by it: “Preach the Gospel and, if necessary, Use Words.” I have always loved that quote because it really is my modus operandi in how I approach life, both on a personal and professional level.