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PSimmondsPeter Ernest Simmonds was born in Tunbridge Wells, Kent on the 22nd November 1927. He was the eldest of five children, four of them boys. His brother, John, became a Franciscan priest of the Friars Minor. He received his early schooling in Bedford, where he equipped himself of his father’s talent for wood and metal turning. On completion of his school certificate, he attended De Havilland Aeronautical Technical School for a four year course in production engineering.


After seeing the Don Bosco film in the Bedford convent, he made contact with the Salesians in Battersea. He first completed his City and Guilds Teacher’s Certificate, before going to Blaisdon as an aspirant and then to Burwash for his novitiate, where he was professed as a Brother on the 8th September 1953. He left Burwash in December 1954 and set sail for South Africa.


Thus began an apostolate at the Salesian Institute in Cape Town, which was to last for 53 years, apart from a break of seven years in Lansdowne in the Mission Office and parish administration (1993-2000). He fulfilled many roles over the years, as technical instructor in cabinet making and metal work, headmaster of the technical and secondary school, manager of the Press and of the Repository. What Don Bosco said to his first Salesians can be said of Peter: All that you have done was “not only useful but necessary”.


Perhaps the highlight of Peter’s life was when he was given permission to start the street children apostolate in the 1980s. This kind of work had long been his dream and he made it a reality, setting up the Learn 2 Live school programme and the Don Bosco Hostel, approaching it in his characteristic way: dedicated, efficient, meticulous, innovative, responding to the call of duty and never fearing a challenge. These were not easy times for the community and staff, but gradually the complete sense of Peter’s vision became a well-recognised and successful programme.


Peter embraced his Salesian vocation and lived it to the full, “close as he was to the young and to the realities of working life” (C 45). He was a model Salesian Brother, deeply spiritual, exemplary in self-discipline and participation in community life, a faithful religious, and although for the past few years was in poor health, he continued to do his bit for the mission of Don Bosco to the very end.


His health began to fail when he reached his eighties and he suffered a great deal in his last years, but accepted this with true dignity, always grateful for any act of kindness towards himself. He continued to keep himself informed of current affairs – especially within the Church and the Congregation.  Peter was a quiet retiring person, never seeking the spotlight, but always ready to serve. And how he served! He spent himself for others – he was familiar with sacrifice and in the last few months of his life he accepted his suffering as “redemptive.”


Peter’s joy and fidelity over the past 61 years of Profession was because he loved much: God, his vocation, Don Bosco, the youth entrusted to his care, and the Salesians who nurtured his growth. Part of that love in his life was the crosses he was asked to bear at times.


It was his acceptance of God’s will for him in the good and difficult times and his faithful living out of the consecrated life through the vows of obedience, poverty and chastity that formed him into the wonderful person he became. He was a wonderful example of a Christian gentleman – that is the image of a Salesian Brother, a true Christian gentleman!
Peter’s life gave great joy to so many. He loved life and he knew how precious the gift of life is and he made it his business to honour other people’s lives, to give them dignity and to uplift the lives of the poor and the marginalised, and in a special way the young. The warmth of his humanity shone through in many simple ways. Those of us who had the privilege of sharing Salesian community life with him will remember his spirit of service, generosity and wonderful sense of humour, his love for our social life in being together, a sincere compassion for those in need, and a love of celebration. The spirit of Don Bosco shone through him.


Everyone's death is the same quality as himself: to the enemy of God, an enemy; to the friend of God, a friend, and I believe Peter welcomed the moment as a friend, prepared as he was for the past months for a happy end and with a life of self-giving.


How will we remember Peter? As a true friend, a kind human being, a dedicated religious, a real servant to all and a deeply spiritual being – a spirituality that touched everyone.  “He whom we loved and lost is no longer where he was before. He is now wherever we are”, as St Chrysostom wrote. Peter’s legacy lives on, especially at the Salesian Institute, not forgotten, but growing.


In the words of Peter’s friend and past pupil, Bishop Peter Holiday, (Bishop of Kroonstad): “Indeed, an exemplary model of Don Bosco. May the Lord welcome him to heaven with the words: ‘Welcome, good and faithful servant’”.
Farewell, Peter, and thank you for all you have meant to us. May your example and your prayers now before the throne of God bring many young men in Africa to this special vocation of the Salesian Brother.


Fr Jeffrey Johnson SDB
Salesian Institute
Cape Town

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