Legends can surround historical figures, especially when known events are lacking. Such is the case for St. Simon Stock. Most information about him comes from medieval catalogues of saints and prior generals of the Carmelite Order. Even that small amount of information is not consistent in details. So, legends grew up around St. Simon to give more details of his life.
But rather than seeing the legends as unimportant folktales, the stories attempt to tell something deeper about this remarkable man who led the Carmelite Order.
His last name “Stock” means the hollow of a tree. According to legend, as a 12-year-old, he lived in the hollow of an old oak tree while dedicating himself to prayer and solitude. As a young man he went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land where he met and joined the Carmelites.
Simon, later in his life, returned to Europe with a band of Carmelites. As entertaining as these stories may be, they reveal a fact that he was a man of deep prayer who gave himself to God.
He is believed to have lived at Aylesford in Kent, England. Simon was elected either the fifth or sixth prior general possibly around 1247. Under his leadership, the Order grew and spread widely in southern and western Europe. He founded houses in university towns, such as Cambridge in 1248, Oxford in 1253 and Paris and Bologna in 1260. He also played an important role in transforming Carmel from hermits to mendicant friars.
Simon had a strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. According to tradition, he spent a long period in prayer asking her to favor the Order with a sign or privilege. The Virgin Mary appeared to him holding a scapular. It was a promise that those Carmelites who remained faithful to their vocation would be saved. But at the start of the 16th century, the friars started giving the scapular to those who wanted to be connected to the Order. The scapular and the Virgin’s words became extremely popular with countless numbers of people.
Simon is said to have died in Bordeaux, France on May 16 in an unknown year. The earliest liturgical books in his honor were composed in Bordeaux in 1435. Devotion to Simon spread throughout the entire Order by 1564.
What does this largely unknown man say to men and women of the 21st century? Break away from the busyness of life on a regular basis so you can meet the Lord in quiet place. Spend time with Him, not rushing through prayer. Speak your heart to Him, but also be still and willing to listen to what the Lord has to say. Then act upon what you hear. Turn to the Virgin and hear what she says over and over again to believers, “Do whatever He tells you.” (John 3:5)
St. Simon Stock, in spite of remaining largely unknown, still speaks clearly and strongly, showing a way to Christ and His Mother.