In his column for The Monitor, Bishop David M. O’Connell remembers Bishop Emeritus John M. Smith
The passing of Bishop Emeritus John M. Smith at the age of 83 leaves an empty place in the Diocese he served as bishop for 13 years. The local Church he loved to call the “Great Diocese of Trenton” mourns the death of this “great” priest and bishop. He will be fondly remembered for his great sense of humor and engaging personality, witnessed so often during his tenure and pastoral ministry throughout the Diocese’s four counties. He fittingly chose as his episcopal motto “Serve the Lord with Gladness” from Psalm 100.
Bishop Smith was virtually “omni-present” at parish and diocesan events, where he was often the “last person to leave” gatherings and celebrations where clergy, religious and faithful gathered. He possessed a “larger than life” persona that drew people to him within and beyond diocesan boundaries as far as Uganda.
Bishop Smith was aptly prepared to assume the helm of the Church of Trenton in 1997 with an impressive resume of pastoral work that took him from priestly ordination in his native Archdiocese of Newark in 1961 to graduate studies in Washington, home to Newark, then to Rome and back to Newark, where he served in various leadership positions, eventually becoming auxiliary bishop in 1988.
From Newark, Bishop Smith was appointed Diocesan Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee in 1991 before returning to the Garden State as Coadjutor then Diocesan Bishop of Trenton in 1997. Well-suited for the tasks he would fulfill there, Bishop Smith expanded the reach of Diocesan ministries from the Pastoral Center, established the Annual Bishop's Appeal, confirmed thousands of young Catholics, built the technology infrastructure of the Chancery, presided over the Diocese’s 125th Anniversary in 2006, and spearheaded its first strategic plan, “Led by the Spirit.”
At age 75, Bishop Smith retired in 2010 after almost 50 years as a priest, moving to Villa Vianney in Lawrenceville, the Diocese’s retirement home for priests, where he lived until his death on Jan. 22.
Ordained a priest the year before the opening of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), Bishop Smith had great affection for Pope St. Paul VI, who once observed, “Somebody should tell us right at the start of our lives that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of the day. Do it, I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now. There are only so many tomorrows.” Bishop Smith, indeed, “did it.”
It is fitting, then, that his funeral rites are beginning Jan. 25, the 31st anniversary of his episcopal ordination. He leaves behind a great legacy of a bishop who “served the Lord with gladness.”