Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 7, 2007
Priestly vocation took time to emerge
Business degree, job with large company came before Smith's entry to seminary
- WCR photo by Ramon Gonzalez
"Early on a seed was planted by the priests and their love for the Mass."
Archbishop Richard Smith
WCR Staff Writer
By GLEN ARGAN
Earning a bachelor of commerce degree "is not the normal path that's followed" to a priestly vocation, admits Archbishop Richard Smith.
But it's the winding path he took. Completing high school in Halifax, he wanted to study business. So he earned his bachelor of commerce from St. Mary's University and went to work for Procter and Gamble.
"I enjoyed the people I worked with and I found it to be a good company," Smith said in an interview.
"But there was within me a general dissatisfaction with that as a career choice. I started to feel a very strong call to test this possibility of a vocation to the priesthood."
So he went to see then-Archbishop James Hayes and, after one year at Procter and Gamble, entered the seminary.
In the first year, he studied theology and got experience in parishes and with people at difficult points in their lives. "The true affirmation of a vocation comes from the Church," he said. But by the end of his first year, he had his inner affirmation.
At age 28, on May 23, 1987, he was ordained a priest by Archbishop Hayes.
Looking back, he sees the commerce degree as "something from my distant past" that he "left behind entirely."
He also sees that his priestly vocation "was there in seminal form early on."
The oldest of the four children of Donald and Anne Marie Smith, Richard has a warm, close relationship with his family. "Whenever we get together there is a lot of laughter. We enjoy each other's company."
His father was head of commercial sales for the Atlantic region for the CBC. His mother worked at home when the children were young and then became a parish secretary.
The Church was important to his family, he served as an altar boy and he worked with priests in the rectory. "It gave me a sense of what priests do and the importance they have in people's lives."
"Early on a seed was planted by the priests and their love for the Mass," he said. "But it took a little while for that seed to awaken."
The seed blossoms
Once awake, it began to grow. After ordination, he served as assistant pastor in Truro for four years before Hayes decided to send him to the Gregorian University in Rome for further studies.
But before going, he took a year of studies in various languages to prepare himself for the international environment. Today, he feels comfortable in French, Italian, sign language and, to a lesser extent, German.
In Rome, Smith studied dogmatic theology for the first two years. Then, he focused on sacramental theology, doing his dissertation on the sacramental character present in Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders.
The Council of Trent defined those sacraments as leaving a permanent character on the person who receives them. But the Church never defined what that character is.
"That leaves a whole open door to explore how you might best understand it," he said.
Smith's dissertation maintained the sacramental character can best be understood in terms of the permanence of God's gift of himself through his covenant with his people.
In 1995, he returned to Halifax, still working on his dissertation while serving as pastor in parishes. In 1998, he completed his work and earned his doctorate.