Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 7, 2007
The Bishop who whistled on the way to the barbershop
Madonna House found a friend in Bishop Smith
By BILL GLEN
"His demeanour is always cheerful, even in the midst of difficult circumstances."
- Fr. Ryan Holly
"It was a pleasant surprise that not too long after, he was named to be my bishop in Pembroke. We were delighted because he was exactly the same as a bishop as he was a professor," Holly said.
Smith was revered at the seminary as a wonderful professor and a trusted priest whom everybody liked.
"As a bishop, he has the combination you want. He is a clear thinker, a good theologian and very much the pastor. His personality is so gracious - he's a real gentleman. Having worked closely with him here, Archbishop Smith is hard working, but his demeanour is always cheerful, even in the midst of difficult circumstances.
"His peace and calmness are two of his strengths. He is a calming presence."
Smith was very active in pastoral planning issues in the diocese. Not unlike former Archbishops Joseph MacNeil and Thomas Collins in Edmonton, Smith faced twinning and closing parishes due to dwindling personnel.
He was also keen on developing faith formation of students in the Quebec sector of the diocese because religious education was no longer taking place in the school system. He established offices for youth and Christian family life.
- photo supplied
Bishop Richard Smith is seen in a meeting with youth of the Pembroke Diocese.
"He introduced our diocese to twinning with Lima, Peru, trying to respond to Pope John Paul's call for the Americas to work together. We have an active group in the diocese that is working closely with the Archdiocese of Lima."
Smith led pilgrimages to Lima and made other trips there on his own.
Holly said the Eucharist is deeply at the centre of Smith's mission and a source of his faith. In the midst of pastoral planning issues like church closures, Smith always brought the committees back to the central issue of what the planning was about - an encounter with the Lord, especially through the Eucharist.
"It was refreshing because when you are involved with difficult questions, he brought us back to the reason. He reminded us of our living relationship with Jesus."
Following in the footsteps of former Archbishops MacNeil and Collins, Holly says Smith is also a talented homilist.
"I'm sure you will be nourished with his reflections. He has a wonderful grasp of culture and ideas, but he is also very much the relaxed and easy going Maritimer."
Smith enjoys being involved in any given community.
"Not only are we going to miss his episcopal ministry, but just his presence in the community. People saw him out for a walk in their neighbourhood, or met with him down at the barbershop in Pembroke."
Holly says one testament to his dedication was that Smith always took his turn "on the hospital beeper."
"Like any other priest in the city of Pembroke, he had his week at the hospital. He took hospital calls in the middle of the night because he saw his priestly ministry as rooted in something that was close to the work of any parish priest. It's a signal of the kind of priest and bishop he is."
"He stole the show. What a good sport."
- Donna Shaddick
Because of Smith's many talents, Holly thought he was on borrowed time in Pembroke. "It might have been an unsaid fear we all had."
Holly applauded his former spiritual leader for how he treated the priests.
"It was important for him to treat his priests very well because if the bishop is caring for his priests, they in turn with will care for the people in the diocese. He told us we were all his friends."
Smith was busy in his role as national spiritual advisor for the CWL. However, he always found the time for the local council if requested.
"I've had several occasions to ask his advice and direction concerning league matters," said Donna Shaddick, Pembroke's CWL diocesan president.
One initiative dealt with pornography and the raising of the age of consent. Another concerned a proposed resolution from a parish council.
Shaddick says the bishop was interested, knowledgeable and direct.
Fr. Ryan Holly
"We sat together at several CWL anniversaries in the diocese. He has always been very supportive of league activities and very interested to hear about plans within the diocese," she said.
"It was his counsel and support we looked for when we first began the process of offering to host the provincial convention in 2008 here in our diocese. He encouraged us and commended us for the willingness to undertake such a big project."
Shaddick says Smith has a dramatic flair.
"I was attending the provincial convention in London in 2002. He had just come to our diocese. Our group was waiting to be called to the stage to perform a song that we had been asked to compose to tell about our diocese.
"Bishop Smith was introduced as the new bishop and we approached him to let him know what we were going to be doing on stage. We had brought an extra cowboy hat, knowing he would be there, but never dreamed that he would join us on stage," she said.
"Without having a practice or even seeing the words to the song, he donned the hat, mounted the stage and with very little urging, joined us in serenading the delegates - much to the delight of the audience."
The following year at the provincial convention, Smith again joined the group on stage for a Sonny and Cher number. His part was to hit a single note on a xylophone when prompted. "He stole the show. What a good sport."
"Whenever a fellow can laugh easily, you know it has to do with his humility."
Shaddick admired her bishop for his friendly manner and the attention he gives to whomever he is speaking.
"He often spoke about being of service to others and recognizing the need for this in our world. His drive to develop a partnership with the Archdiocese of Lima touched everyone and soon sparked a missionary response throughout the diocese," she said.
"I hope we will continue it long after he has left us. We are better people for having had him as our shepherd."
Bishop Richard Grecco, auxiliary bishop of Toronto and vice-president of the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops, worked with Smith during his time as OCCB president.
"He was a key man in Ontario. He is a prayerful man, an excellent teacher and a very fine administrator," Grecco said. "He is a good steward of his responsibilities."
Grecco mentioned Smith's ability to listen as one of his greatest talents. Smith has a keen ability to draw a consensus from several different points of view.
"He listens intently and effectively. You can tell because at the end of a meeting when you think there's nothing but loose ends, he pulls it all together and strikes a direction. And he does it with brevity. He has finesse for not letting things run all over the place. It's a great gift," Grecco said.
"He is a man with a great sense of humour. Whenever a fellow can laugh easily, you know it has to do with his humility. And I think that's a great sign."
Father Patrick Tait was named administrator of the Pembroke Diocese when Smith became archbishop of Edmonton. Tait is also rector of St. Columbkille Cathedral in Pembroke.
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Bishop Smith talks with some of the staff at St. Columbkille Cathedral in Pembroke.
"I think he'll be a great archbishop for Edmonton. We're very sorry to lose him here. We knew he was going to move on, but not this soon. We've experienced shock and sadness. He was a friend to all of the priests."
Smith doesn't shy away from putting out the Church's teachings on issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion, Tait said.
"He is willing and ready to make forthright statements on moral issues of the day."
Father David May is director general of Madonna House in Combermere, some 100 km from Pembroke.
May was in Edmonton two years ago with Smith to assist Collins at a Mass for the 50th anniversary of the Marian Centre, a mission of Madonna House.
"He certainly was of great encouragement and a friend to the Madonna House community. I would say we developed a beautiful friendship with the community. He visited us on a number of occasions and met with some of our directors."
During his five years as bishop, Smith visited the community perhaps a half-dozen times, May said. Each visit was special.
"He has great appreciation for the new ecclesial communities in the Church, of which the Madonna House is an example. I think he also found us a support for his own episcopal ministry. There was a very good collaboration at that level, and a mutual encouragement."
Smith was beloved by the community of men, women and priests because he appreciated the charism Madonna House brings to the Church, May said. If needed, the priests at Madonna House would step in and assist the diocese.
"It's great to have a bishop who appreciates that kind of contribution. He has a universal heart and a tremendous appreciation for a wide range of people from all walks of life. And it's genuine.
"He clearly articulates the truth of the faith. He has an ability to create rapport with people," May said.
"He gives the office of bishop a human face and a very faithful one to Christ."
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