When Evan William Simington packed up all his belongings in his Nissan Frontier truck last year, he knew where he was heading.
He just didn’t know what waited for him there.
Simington left Tallahassee, Florida for Greenville, South Carolina, unsure if he’d land a job or find a place to live in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
But he knew this much: The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter had a thriving Catholic community there. And it was simply where he felt called to be.
“It was a critical step in faith,” the 29-year-old said of his move, which opened the way for his reception into the Catholic Church. Simington was received into the Ordinariate at St. Anselm’s, the Ordinariate’s community in Greenville, in October 2014.
He found work as a pastoral associate at Prince of Peace — a Catholic parish in the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina — until this summer, when he packed up his truck once again to start a new leg of his journey.
Simington arrived in Houston, Texas this June to begin studies as the first seminarian for the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.
Connecting thought and faith
Simington’s discernment to the priestly life started long before he became Catholic. Raised Episcopalian, he was an active student in campus ministry at the Episcopal University Center at Florida State University. He planned to study sports medicine, but a providential encounter with an introductory book on philosophy made him rethink his major.
“Philosophy gave me a whole new experience of critical thinking,” Simington said.
He applied that same critical thought to his faith life. As an undergraduate with a dual major in philosophy and religion, he began to search in earnest for a church that might guide him in “how faith understands the intellectual questions,” Simington said. He joined St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Tallahassee and met clergy who, he said, encouraged him to “investigate the importance of faith.”
Simington started to wonder his faith could be more concretely witnessed in his lifestyle. He began to question: Am I called to be a priest?
By the time of his graduation from FSU in 2008, Simington had formally begun discernment to Holy Orders in the Anglican Church in North America. In the process, he recognized he needed more work and life experience to further his discernment. So he held down full-time employment at an apartment complex in Tallahassee, while taking theology classes with Fr. Michael Petty, a priest at St. Peter’s Anglican Church.
Fr. Petty introduced Simington to the early Church fathers and — at Simington’s request — Marian theology. “Studying patristics and theology in an elevated way really excited me. It introduced me to a remarkably Catholic interpretation of the Church,” Simington said.
For three years, he lived what he called a “very Benedictine” way of life: living, working, praying and studying with a heart of service.
Simington felt sure he wanted to further his studies in theology. He entered the Nashotah House Theological Seminary in Wisconsin in 2011 and graduated with a Master’s in Divinity last May.
During his discernment period in Tallahassee and his years at Nashotah, he came to see the Catholic Church as the next, natural step in his formation. Though grateful for his Anglican heritage and the mentoring of wise celibate and married Anglican priests, Simington had come to view the Catholic Church — particularly Her theology and magesterium — as the completion of the faith tradition in which he was raised.
“It was through the Mass that I saw a very beautiful connection of intellectual thought and faith,” he said. “The intellectual and faith ‘meet’ in the Mass.”
Simington saw the Catholic Church as the true home of Anglicanism. He wanted to be Catholic.
But where could he join the Church?
With the establishment of The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter in 2012, Simington knew the Holy See had created a way for he and other former Anglicans to come into full communion with the Catholic Church. During his seminary training, he had come to know others who were affiliated with the Ordinariate and who shared his love of Anglican patrimony. Through his connections, he heard about the St. Anselm Catholic Community in Greenville — and because he deeply wanted to experience a Catholic community as part of his conversion, something inside him said Greenville was the place he needed to be.
Simington reached out to Fr. Jon Chalmers, the pastor of St. Anselm’s and vice-chancellor for the Ordinariate, to let him know of his interest in joining the Catholic community there.
“Evan brought new energy to both the St. Anselm’s Ordinariate Community and the broader Catholic community, particularly Lucis Via, the group for young adult Catholics in the Diocese of Charleston,” Fr. Chalmers said. “The presence of a young, obviously very intelligent, man aspiring for Holy Orders in the Catholic Church was a gift. His participation not only in St. Anselm’s but in other local parishes brought a concrete reality to the shared work of evangelization, while providing opportunities to explore and explain the particular charism of the Ordinariate.”
“Evan is a gifted teacher,” Fr. Chalmers continued. “He brings quiet competence to complex discussions about faith and life. His background and his education conspire to present a robust ‘faith seeking understanding’ that is engaging to many.”
Though Simington was not sure where he would work or live when he arrived in South Carolina, he was confident there was a reason he was being drawn to the Palmetto state. Once there, he immediately found work at a senior living facility, where his supervisor and co-workers helped him find an apartment and gave him pots, pans and other essentials for his daily living. “God was very gracious to place these people in my life,” Simington said.
Just a few months down the road, a local diocesan parish — Prince of Peace — offered him a position as a pastoral associate. The ministry was well-suited to Simington, who by then felt certain he was called to consider life as a celibate Catholic priest.
“My desire to serve the people of God and my love of the sacraments confirmed” the call to his vocation, Simington said.
“Evan is really a Godsend to all of us in the Ordinariate,” said Father Chuck Hough, III, the Ordinariate’s Vicar for Clergy. “Not only do we feel blessed, but we feel excited about what God has provided us through Evan. He is such a fine young vocation to the priesthood — one that fits in beautifully as our first residential seminarian for the Ordinariate.”
Simington began his Catholic seminary studies at St. Mary Seminary in Houston this August. His presence there solidifies the Ordinariate’s relationship with the renown seminary, its rector and staff, particularly Father Paul Lockey, a pastoral provision priest of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston who is collaborating with the Ordinariate in developing formation programs for the Ordinariate’s clergy.
With his M.Div. from Nashotah, Simington has advanced standing at the Texas seminary and is grouped with other men now in their third year of studies. Set to be ordained a deacon next year, Simington will eventually earn a Master’s in Pastoral Studies from St. Mary’s. “They’re re-treading me Catholic,” he said, with a chuckle.
In addition to his studies, Simington will spend time serving at Our Lady of Walsingham Catholic Church, the Principal Church of the Ordinariate, and other parishes in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, where the seminary is located.
Simington said his parents, older sister and older half-brother have been peaceful with and supportive of his discernment. He shared gratitude for all the voices — from Florida to South Carolina to Texas — who have encouraged him to humbly explore how God is inviting him to serve others.
“God has used people, places and times to affect my call,” he said.