Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 7, 2007
Halifax bishops awed by Smith since his days in Seminary
Deaf parishioners followed him from parish to parish
By RAMON GONZALEZ
"He surely did not follow the money."
He told him so and then he "arranged for him to have duties in Halifax so he could have time available to study Italian, which would make it easier for him when he went to Rome for his doctoral studies." Smith did his doctoral studies in Rome from 1991 to 1995.
Before that he was pastor for the francophone community and in no time "he learned French very well," noted Hayes. He also learned American Sign Language so he could say Mass for the hearing-impaired.
"He was really active in a lot of ways," Hayes said. "Everywhere he went he was recognized as a wonderful teacher who was able to bring the theology, the doctrine right down to the level of the people and help them to relate that to what was going on in their own lives at the time."
The fact he learned sign language on his own "shows that he is very intelligent, really, and that is able to use his gifts in a very personal and practical way," Hayes said. "That's really the story of his pastoral ministry."
"The deaf community was a very important part of his life."
- Sr. Alice Mailman
While doing his doctoral studies in Rome, Smith did supply work in a parish near Rome and in the summer he learned German well enough to replace a pastor in Germany for a month or so in 1995.
"He was a great academic and a great teacher but especially he was always a pastor," Hayes recalled. "That's the principal thing in his life, I'm sure."
Sister Alice Mailman, coordinator of deaf ministry for the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops in Ottawa, worked with Smith in Halifax for a few years in the mid-1990s. She said Smith became interested in the deaf community even before his ordination and then served as its chaplain for four years.
"The deaf community was a very important part of his life and he would say Mass for them every Sunday," Mailman recalled. "It really touched a chord in him to see the deaf community together. He really liked the way they bonded as a community."
Last year Smith attended a retreat for the Ontario deaf community in Ottawa and he still remembered how to speak to them. "They loved him for that," Mailman said.
"He was nice and kind and friendly and we loved him."
- Mabel Currie
Prendergast is also impressed with Smith's sign language abilities. "I remember one day I was confirming one of the boys who was hard of hearing and Richard was chosen to do the First Reading. He did it by signing and somebody interpreted it for us who could hear. That was a wonderful innovation, a very creative way of expressing it."
Smith formally began his priestly career as associate pastor at Immaculate Conception Parish in Truro. Then, between 1995 and 2000, he served in three other parishes: St. Peter's in Sheet Harbour, St. Joseph's in Bridgewater (which also covers Lunenburg and Elmwood), and St. John the Baptist in Halifax.
The gifted priest left a good impression everywhere he served.
"He was very intelligent, knowledgeable and very patient," recalled Brian Smith, a former student of Smith at the Atlantic School of Theology and now a permanent deacon in Truro.
"He has a great memory and would remember all our names and our wives' names. When I went to his ordination as bishop of Pembroke he immediately recognized me and called me by name."
"He was nice and kind and friendly and we loved him," said 86-year-old Mabel Currie from Sheet Harbour, where Smith served from 1995-97. She recalls with emotion how Smith arranged for her then 16-year-old great-granddaughter Rhonda, who had allergies and couldn't enter the church, to be confirmed at home.
"That's was very, very nice of him," she said, recalling how Smith would visit her home once or twice a month to eat fried fish, his favourite dish.
"He is an excellent pastor because he is a very good people man," said Msgr. William Wamboldt, the current pastor at Bridgewater, where Smith served from 1997-99.
"He is down to earth, he is understandable in his homilies and he is very sincere with people. He had the parish going very actively in the liturgy and getting people to church while he was here. He is well known for that sort of thing."
"Such are his many gifts that we knew from the beginning we would not have him for long."
- Deacon Patrick Morris
Wamboldt taught canon law at the Atlantic School of Theology and said Smith was one of his most accomplished students. "He was the cleverest student I taught, academically," he recalled. "He had the highest marks."
At the time Wamboldt was pastor at a place called Windsor Junction, where seminarian Smith served for one year doing a pastoral project with young people. "He was very successful at it," Wamboldt recalled. "While he was there he had a lot of young people going to church and learning about the Church."
Kasimira von Dragna, liturgical coordinator at Bridgewater, worked closely with Smith for the liturgical celebrations.
"He was really well liked," she said. "He was a very pleasant individual to work with and he had good ideas of things to try and he was a collaborator. He gave us our space doing things in his name."
But even though Smith gave lay people the opportunity to express themselves, "he was very careful to make sure that things were according to the directives that came from the bishops and from the pope," von Dragna recalled.
"He is a very approachable person and was very open and honest about where he stood on certain things so we knew exactly where he stood on a particular issue. If we had a good idea that didn't violate any kind of principles then we were able to implement it and he would not interfere. He was very supportive."
Smith's homilies were good to the point that "we heard from parents in the parish that their children would be discussing the homily with their parents at the dinner table" following the Sunday Mass, von Dragna said.
"That was one of his characteristics that he could take the most complicated theological doctrines of the Church and put it in such a way that everyone could understand it," she said.
"He was not talking down to people; it was just the way in which he presented it and he always had a prop in his hand.
"One day it was a chocolate bar, next Sunday it would be a map or something of that nature so that children always had something to look at and they would understand it from their point of view."
For Holy Thursday he would sing the entire Eucharistic Prayer. "It was something that we had never heard of. He is very well versed in music."
People in Bridgewater loved and admired their pastor so much he would receive more dinner invitations at private homes than he could handle, said von Dragna, who accompanied Smith to many of those dinners.
During those dinners he showed he could handle any topic of conversation, from opera to art to music.
"The priests here could see that he had the capability of being a leader."
- Archbishop Terrence Prendergast
"Such are his many gifts that we knew from the beginning we would not have him for long," said Bridgewater permanent deacon Patrick Morris, who is also a lawyer.
"Our parish felt a tremendous loss when he went to Halifax. Everyone loved him. His homilies were captivating.
"We always wondered what prop he would pull out during the homily to make his point and make us smile.
"When he would sing the Mass, it was simply beautiful."
Father Paul Morris was a parishioner at St. John the Baptist Parish when Smith served there in 1999-2000.
"He is a very capable man; you are really getting the best of the brightest," he said.
"Richard Smith is a genuinely kind and nice person and yet he also displays remarkable talents and organization. He is very bright, very affable, a lovely person; and he is a bridge-builder who gets along with people of different (religious) persuasions. He is a unifier."
Sister Elsie Martin, pastoral assistant at St. John the Baptist since 1992, also has fond memories of her former boss.
"He was wonderful; everybody loved him here," the Sister of Charity of Halifax said. "He did wonderful homilies and was everybody's friend."
During Smith's time, St. John the Baptist was "a very busy parish and parishioners were very much involved," Martin recalled. "I remember doing schedules for 106 people (who wanted to serve)."
When Smith became bishop of Pembroke, a busload of parishioners from St. John the Baptist went to his ordination.
When Prendergast came to Halifax as archbishop in 1990, Smith was pastor at Bridgewater and would commute between there and London, Ont. to teach at St. Peter's Seminary.
"I said I want to change that. I said I want you to be in Halifax and I think you can do other arrangements for the seminary. I said I can't afford to lose you for a semester at the time."
So Smith developed a pattern of flying to London every second or third weekend for four or five days and then coming back.
"When I brought him back from London I brought him into the city (at St. John Baptist Parish) as well so he could teach at our formation program for the laity," Prendergast recalled.
Eventually, he made Smith vicar-general of the archdiocese.
When Smith was named bishop of Pembroke, Prendergast couldn't tell anyone before the announcement was made.
"A few days before the announcement came out one of my priests said, 'You know, Richard is going to be a bishop one of these days.' He said 'I just hope that they don't take him too soon,'" he recalled.
"I said that would be too bad, wouldn't it. Of course I knew that the next week they were going to announce that he was a bishop of Pembroke. The priests here could see that he had the capability of being a leader. He is a real leader."
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