Biographies

Father John F. Smith, MM

Born: July 25, 1902
Ordained: June 5, 1932
Died: May 15, 1985

Hong Kong – October, 1949 Just as Father John F. Smith reached for his glasses, a bullet crashed into his cabin to reduce the spectacles to splinters. Three Maryknollers were among passengers on the riverboat Kwong Fook Cheung when it was attacked. Fr. Smith had placed his glasses on a box of groceries near his berth. One of the first bullets fired in the attack hit the glasses and Father ducked behind a large carton of supplies before another bullet could find their owner.

Honolulu, 1955 – The volcanic eruptions in the Puna District of the Big Island, which started February 28th and lasted forty days, ended early Good Friday morning, April 18th. All of the volcanic activity and also the people were in the confines of Sacred Heart Parish.

A biographer, investigating the more recent years in the life of Fr. John Smith, would have been surprised at the newspaper copy John received in China when attacked by bandits in 1949, and as Pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Hawaii in 1955.

In the last twenty years of his life, Fr. Smith was described by his Superiors in Hawaii as ‘doing his work well, kind to the people, and pleasant.’ His later life-style did not boast his early mission experience which began in Kongmoon, South China, in 1932 and ended in 1951, when officers of the Communist Government suggested that he move to Yeungkong (Maryknoll’s first South China mission) with other priests. This move was made after his Sun Hui mission station was confiscated by the government and he was restricted to the third floor of his house for two months.

Later that year, John Smith returned to Maryknoll via Canton, Hong Kong and Rome. He left China at the invitation of the government and was assigned as Procurator in Maryknoll Seminary, Lakewood, N.J.

In 1953 he began a second career as a Maryknoll Missioner in Hawaii, where he was distinguished by his parochial work as described above. He worked well with youth and was involved with CYO activities.

After twenty years in Hawaii, John was assigned to the Special Society Unit and Mountain View, California in 1973. The last few years of his life he was incapacitated at St. Teresa’s Residence in New York. He died on May 15, 1985.

John came to Maryknoll from Brooklyn, N.Y. He was born on July 25, 1902 and entered Maryknoll after nine years working for a steamship company. He had attended night school at Jamaica High School, City College of New York, and a year and a half at St. Francis College, Brooklyn. He was the second of three children born to Margaret Murphy and Frank Smith in New York City.

John’s missionary vocation is not unique in Maryknoll, in that he did active missionary work in both China and Hawaii. We cannot speculate how his biography would be written if he had the opportunity of continuing mission work in China. In 1933 he wrote to Bishop James A. Walsh about his first year in China. He said: “Bishop Walsh’s (James E.) advice for our first year in China was ‘study steadily but not intensely, maintain our appetites and keep in the state of Grace.’ This advice seemed very simple to me, but now that this year is practically over, I can readily see its wisdom and merit. To sum up my first year in China: after studying the language steadily for eight months, having seen eight of our missions, and been exposed a little to Chinese food and travel conditions, I still have a good appetite and feel that I am in a state of Grace, thanks to God’s loving kindness.”

A Wake Service was held in the Maryknoll Chapel on Thursday evening, May 16, 1985. Fr. Thomas McDermott officiated and Fr. John Harrington read the Biography. Mass of Christian Burial was concelebrated the next day at 11:45 a.m. with Fr. Robert Crawford as Principal Celebrant and Fr. Fidelis Goodman giving the homily. Burial followed in the Center Cemetery conducted by Fr. John Corcoran, Vicar General.