TEUTOPOLIS — While Brother Simon Van Ackeren was only in Teutopolis a short time before his death from tuberculosis at age 20, local Catholic youth born decades after his death ask him for intercession.
Lisa Siemer, the director of Christian education at St. Francis of Assisi, says the members of her youth group have “adopted” the late Franciscan brother as their patron, even though he has never been formally beatified or canonized as a saint.
“As Catholics, we ask for the intercession of saints,” Siemer said. “We have taken Brother Simon as our patron and asked the kids to pray to him for the success of our Catholic Heart Work Camp.”
According to a book written by the Rev. Philip Marquard, a Franciscan priest, Lawrence Van Ackeren was born Feb. 17, 1918, in the tiny east-central Nebraska town of Humphrey. The seventh of 12 children, Lawrence was known as Curly or Van to his friends.
Father Marquard notes that Curly wanted to become a Franciscan priest. But after it was determined that he didn’t have the academic skill to go through the demanding curricula required of aspiring priest, he opted to become a lay brother and sent to Teutopolis for a sort of tryout in early 1937.
Lawrence Van Ackeren became Brother Simon on March 2, 1937. Father Marquard records that the young brother soon became a fixture in the Teutopolis Franciscan community.
“He worked like a beaver, smiling all the day long,” the priest wrote.
But disaster struck for the young brother in early 1938, when his ankle began hurting. At first, it was believed Brother Simon had torn a ligament playing basketball years earlier. But it turned out to be worse than a simple torn ligament.
After a trip to St. Louis for diagnosis, Brother Simon learned he had tuberculosis of the bone. When he returned to Teutopolis, his ankle was in a cast and he was reduced to limping along on crutches.