Monsignor William B. Smith (1939-2009)FATHER GEORGE W. RUTLER
After his Vigil Mass, the body of Msgr. William B. Smith was carried out the main doors of St. Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie, for the last time, and I wondered how many thousands of entrances and exits he had made through those same doors since he had first arrived as a seminarian.
It was not far from home, as he had grown up in Yonkers (with his two brothers) in St. Denis parish, where Msgr. Joseph O'Connor was a venerable model to him, as he had been to countless others since becoming pastor back in 1921. When Bill came home each day from Xavier High School downtown, he would cut through Carlyle Field at the Bronx city line in Van Cortlandt Park, with the homework the Jesuits had assigned him, regularly protesting that he did not want to become a Jesuit because he "didn't want to be a teacher."
In a brave new world, he tackled all the issues in every possible forum, and always with pellucid wit and grace: contraception, abortion, stem cell research, and the politicized tangle of eugenics that has strangled moral discourse in these days. After one meeting with Mario Cuomo, who constructed a Rube Goldberg kind of ecclesiology, Monsignor Smith said he felt the need to take a shower.
He could be as congenial over tea at my parents' kitchen table as discussing liberation theology with me on Bill Buckley's Firing Line. The three of us debating that subject sounded more like Metternich than Che Guevara. (How one misses that hour-long program of real conversation, so very distant a cousin to our current "talk shows" with the usual suspects screaming rehearsed sound bytes at each other.)
The teacher who said he never wanted to be a teacher did not abandon the parish: For decades, he preached on Sundays in Scarsdale and was a chaplain to the Missionaries of Charity in the South Bronx. Mother Teresa often asked his advice and had him preach Christmas retreats for her and the sisters in Calcutta in 1983.
In a different age and ambience, his dying was like Mr. Chips awakened from sleep: "I thought I heard you say 'twas a pity, a pity I never had children. But you're wrong. I have thousands of them . . . thousands of them . . ."
Father George W. Rutler, "Monsignor William B. Smith (1939-2009)." Inside Catholic (February 10, 2009).
Reprinted with permission of InsideCatholic.com.
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Since 1988 his weekly television program has been broadcast worldwide on EWTN. Father Rutler has published 17 books, including: Cloud of Witnesses - Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive, Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections, A Crisis of Saints: Essays on People and Principles, Brightest and Best, Saint John Vianney: The Cure D'Ars Today, Crisis in Culture, and Adam Danced: The Cross and the Seven Deadly Sins.
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