Congressman Smith and Father Garry Koch, pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel, pose for a photo before a Catholic Schools Week display in the gathering space of the parish church.
Congressman Smith and Father Garry Koch, pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel, pose for a photo before a Catholic Schools Week display in the gathering space of the parish church.
“Our Catholic faith is built on rock,” declared U.S. Congressman Chris Smith to the students of St. Benedict School, Holmdel, seated before him Jan. 31. “Nobody does outreach better than our Church.”

Smith, a Catholic congressman now in his 21st term as the U.S. representative for N.J.’s Fourth Congressional District, shared insights and stories about how his faith influenced his career as a public servant during the school’s Catholic Schools Week speaker series held in the parish church.

“This is a week that will showcase all St. Benedict has to offer,” said principal Kevin Donahue as he introduced Smith to the middle school students. Noting that last year’s slate of presentations were virtual during the pandemic, he noted a live speaker was “an amazing way to kick off Catholic Schools Week.”

Smith, who represents the residents of Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties, told the students he, too, had benefitted in a Catholic school education (in St. Cecelia School, Iselin, and St. Mary High School, Perth Amboy), and had long ago learned the value of prayer in his life and work. “I never go anywhere without my Rosary,” he admitted, “Start praying it and you’ll be glad you did.”

Smith continued, “We are blessed with leaders who are extraordinary. I often listen to Bishop [David M.] O’Connell’s very powerful sermons, they are very encouraging. They tell us to go back to your bedrock of faith where you will find hope, find peace, find that will to persevere.”

The congressman, who resides in Mercer County and is a member of St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square, cited a favorite scriptural reading as his spiritual guiding light, and recommended the children use it as a moral compass as well.

“Our job as Catholics is to try to bring the kingdom of heaven into this world, starting with our communities, starting in our schools, in Congress, wherever we might be, to bring love and forgiveness,” he said. “The Scripture that has inspired me and my work to the ministry of serving people in Congress is Matthew 25:[40] - ‘Whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do also to me.’ If there is a student who is ostracized, alone, reach out to him.”

“One thing I learned from my parents,” Smith continued. “Say a strong prayer of thanks to the Lord for your families sending you here. Some of you might know about sailing - you must constantly be correcting course, or you might go way off course. Forgiveness is the key to prayer and how to live your life.”

Following the congressman’s presentation, students were given the opportunity to ask him questions, including which legislation he supported made him the most proud, favorite causes he had championed, and what career path he would have chosen had he not pursued politics. In each instance, Smith’s Catholic faith shone through.

“No doubt, my faith informs and influences my work in Congress,” he concluded. “It is my entire agenda. There are too many people that take their core values and leave them at the door. We need to take people of faith and work on our ‘Matthew 25’ model. We need to do that more.”

Diocesan Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Vincent de Paul Schmidt, echoed the congressman in his praise of Catholic institutes of learning.

“This is Catholic Schools Week, not just here but all over the country,” he said. “Our schools prepare unbelievably strong students. Here is your homework. When you get home tonight, say ‘thank you’ to your moms and dads, your grandmothers and grandfathers, those people responsible for allowing you the opportunity to be in a Catholic school. Catholic schools are where you can live your faith and be surrounded by amazing teachers.”