By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor
The great love that Bishop Emeritus John M. Smith had for Jesus and showed for the people to whom he ministered as a priest and bishop was warmly remembered by the hundreds of people who gathered for his Mass of Christian Burial celebrated by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., Jan. 26 in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton.
Photo Gallery: Bishop Smith's Mass of Christian Burial
Bishop Emeritus John Mortimer Smith was warmly remembered Jan. 26 as a man who brought to life the words of his episcopal motto, “Serve the Lord with Gladness,” a joy he found in being a priest and bishop who was firmly rooted in the great love he had for Jesus, the Church and the people to whom he ministered.
Hundreds gathered in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, to say farewell and pray for the repose of the soul of the ninth bishop of Trenton during a Mass of Christian Burial celebrated by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M. Bishop Smith died Jan. 22 at age 83.
As the Diocesan Festival Choir led in the singing of “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say,” the entrance procession began with a lengthy line of clergy including dozens of deacons; well over 100 priest concelebrants – the greater majority of whom were ordained by Bishop Smith; and visiting priests, including Bishop Smith’s brother, Benedictine Father Andrew Smith, Msgr. Michael Reed, who was Bishop Smith’s secretary in his former diocese, Pensacola-Tallahassee, and Father Lewis Papera, a priest of the Newark Archdiocese and longtime friend. Along with Bishop O’Connell, there were active and retired bishops from throughout the province of Newark also in attendance.
Seated in the first several pews of the Cathedral were members of Bishop Smith’s family, including his brother, Gregory, sister-in-law, Joyce, and his nieces. There was also a presence of women religious, current staff from the Diocesan Chancery and other diocesan agencies, Catholic schools and parishes, and former diocesan employees who had worked with Bishop Smith during the course of his 13 years in the Diocese.
Congressman Chris Smith (R-Hamilton), who is a native of the Diocese and a member of St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square, was also in the congregation. As a prolife congressman, Congressman Smith and Bishop Smith had occasion to interact at various diocesan respect life events and address respect life issues.
Once Bishop O’Connell processed in and took his place at the cathedra – Bishop’s chair – in the sanctuary, he asked the congregation to be seated then proceeded to read a letter of condolence from Pope Francis.
Longtime friends of Bishop Smith’s participated in the Liturgy of the Word. Mike Castellano, a member of St. Paul Parish, Princeton, who came to know Bishop Smith while traveling on a diocesan pilgrimage to Rome in 2000, proclaimed the First Reading from Isaiah 25:6a, 7-9: “He will destroy death forever.” Judy Persichilli of St. James Parish, Pennington, who first met Bishop Smith when she was CEO of St. Francis Medical Center, Trenton, proclaimed the Second Reading from Romans 10:8-15: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring [the] good news!” Deacon Jim Knipper, also from St. Paul Parish, who served as the deacon for the funeral Mass, proclaimed from the Gospel from John 11:17-27: “Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
In his homily, Msgr. Joseph Rosie, who, under Bishop Smith’s episcopacy served as his priest secretary and then as diocesan chancellor, recognized groups of people who Bishop Smith encountered throughout his life, namely his family and those he met in his various assignments as a priest, an auxiliary bishop in the Newark Archdiocese, as bishop in the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee and as bishop of the Trenton Diocese.
To Bishop Smith’s family, Msgr. Rosie offered thanks “for sharing Bishop Smith with us.”
“As the great Diocese of Trenton gathers today to commend to the mercy of God a gentleman of faith who heard the voice of the Lord inviting him to the gift of holy priesthood and the fullness of that priesthood, your brother, our Bishop Smith, we thank you. We have been enriched by the gift of faith shared in your family,” said Msgr. Rosie, pastor of St. Paul Parish, Princeton.
Msgr. Rosie spoke of the particular joy it was for Bishop Smith to minister in St. Joseph Parish, Oradell, as a newly ordained priest, which was “without doubt, one of Bishop’s greatest desires to translate the powerful experience of community, family, faith.” Serving in St. Joseph Parish was an experience that set the basis for “wherever his [future] ministry would lead him,” Msgr. Rosie said.
In addressing the priests and laity of the Diocese, Msgr. Rosie related how Bishop Smith “would love to express his deep gratitude to God for you his brother priests, who shared in his priesthood, and for you, the people he loved and cherished so much.”
Msgr. Rosie said the love and respect for which Bishop Smith had for his priests and the faithful was reflected in the countless times Bishop Smith would speak of the good works being done in the Diocese’s parishes, schools and organizations. Bishop Smith, Msgr. Rosie related, would often say, “Joe, they are ruining the curve for us to get to heaven!”
“Bishop celebrated the grace of God working in this Diocese and rejoiced as he was blessed to witness what God was accomplishing through those who call this local Church home. Your faith was gift and an inspiration to him,” Msgr. Rosie said.
Reflecting on Bishop Smith’s episcopal motto, “Serve the Lord with Gladness” from Psalm 100, Msgr. Rosie said the words “were sacred words, inspired words of Scripture that inspired Bishop.”
“We have experienced that gladness in the joyful way in which Bishop shared and preached the Gospel,” Msgr. Rosie said. “But more than just an ability to tell a story, share humor and engage others, Bishop Smith believed what he preached, and he loved who he preached, Jesus and his Church.”
Following Holy Communion, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark led the Final Commendation, and the Festival Choir sang the Song of Farewell, “In Paradisum.”
As the hymn, “For All The Saints,” was sung, all of the clergy in attendance joined in the recessional then gathered outside in front of the Cathedral. Once Bishop Smith’s casket processed out of the church with seminarians of the Diocese serving as pall bearers, Bishop O’Connell led his brother bishops and priests in the chanting of “Salve Regina.”
Following the Funeral Mass, Bishop Smith was entombed in a mausoleum in St. Mary Cemetery and Mausoleum, Hamilton.