Father James F. Smith, MM
Born: November 18, 1908
Ordained: June 16, 1935
Died: November 6, 1996
Father James Smith died at St. Teresa’s Residence, Maryknoll, New York, in the early hours of Wednesday, November 6, 1996. He was 87 years of age and a Maryknoll Priest for 61 years.
James Francis Smith was born in the Town of Norwalk, Connecticut, on November 18, 1908, son of Patrick J. and Elizabeth McNamara Smith. He had three brothers, one of whom is Father William C. Smith of the Norwalk, Connecticut, Diocese, and four sisters. He attended Ascension Parochial School in New York City and graduated from Cathedral High School in June 1926. He attended St. John’s University in Jamaica, Queens, New York, for three years and received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, New York. James entered Maryknoll Seminary in Ossining, New York, on September 3, 1931 where he was ordained a priest on June 16, 1935.
Father Smith was one of that group of early Maryknoll missioners called “Old China Hands” who in his long missionary career on mainland China and in the Diocese of Hong Kong, by the Grace of God, held several jobs at the same time, established numerous parishes, schools and convents among refugee settlements, and attracted many thousands of converts, thus contributing to building up the local Church.
Following ordination, Father Smith was assigned to the Maryknoll Mission in Kongmoon, South China, on July 28, 1935. After a year of Cantonese language and cultural studies in Hong Kong, he spent two years as Assistant Pastor of the Yeung Kong parish in Kwangtung Province. He served as a teacher in the Kongmoon Junior Seminary in Pak Kaai for four years, three of them under Japanese occupation. After the Pearl Harbor attack in DecemberI 941, Father Smith, along with the other Kongmoon Maryknollers, was held under Japanese Protective Custody. After four months, Father Smith succeeded in escaping to Chungking. He was appointed Superior of the Maryknoll Kunming House and served as a contract chaplain for the U.S. Army personnel stationed there during the war. After the war, he was decorated by the U.S. Army for his services.
At war’s end, Father Smith returned to New York and was appointed Vocation Director in the Development department from 1946 to 1949. When Maryknoll accepted Transfiguration Parish in New York City’s Chinatown, Father Smith was appointed the first Maryknoll pastor. During his five years as pastor, he reorganized the 118 year old parish and paid off its large debt.
On April 27, 1953, Father Smith was named Society Superior for the Maryknoll Missions in Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Philippines with residence in Hong Kong. After the Fourth General Chapter in 1956 he was elected Regional Superior of the new Taiwan – Hong Kong Region. From 1953 to 1985 he served in various capacities in the Diocese of Hong Kong. He served a dual role during this period. The first was in service to the Maryknoll Hong Kong Region and the second was as the representative of Bishop Adolph J. Paschang in charge of all of the affairs of the Kongmoon Vicanate on the mainland.
After his term as Regional Superior, he was placed in charge of the Servicemen’s Guide at Fenwick Pier to minister to American servicemen on liberty in Hong Kong. In 1961, he was appointed pastor of the new Lo Fu Ngam parish with no church or rectory. In 1962, he was appointed to the additional position of Director of the Maryknoll Cantonese Language School in Stanley, which he closed after three years because no new Maryknollers were coming to Hong Kong. Next, in 1965, Father Smith moved on to open the new St. Edward’s School-Parish Complex in Lam Tin, a new Resettlement Estate of 50,000 refugees. Father Smith said that his most interesting years as a missioner were spent in building up that new parish. In that same year, 1965, he was appointed Chairman of the Diocesan Welfare Conference and in addition he served as the weekend ‘English Pastor’ of the Stanley Village parish. He served as Coordinator on various commissions and committees of the Hong Kong Diocese. Being fluent in the Cantonese as well as English languages, he was in constant demand for preaching sermons and retreats. His Superior wrote of him: “He is a hard worker, makes a good impression, a capable organizer.. .a gentleman who will admit mistakes.. .and is a bit threatened by the changes in the Church.” In 1968, he was appointed First Alternate Consultor to the Hong Kong Regional Superior. In 1969, he was appointed secretary of an ad hoc committee in Hong Kong formed to discuss ways and means of rebuilding the Church in mainland China when missioners would be allowed back there. He was also involved in ecumenical activities through the years.
As part of his responsibilities as the representative of Bishop Paschang in the affairs of the Kongmoon Vicariate, he served as the Pastoral and Spiritual Director of the native Kongmoon Sisters in Hong Kong. At the same time, he supervised the six primary and secondary schools staffed by these Sisters. He served as a counselor for a number of Chinese priests from Kongmoon. He was involved in the establishment and construction of the Kongmoon Sisters’ novitiate in 1965. For many years Father Smith wrote a monthly news letter about life in Hong Kong and mainland China and sent it to the Maryknoll ‘Old China Hands’ around the world.
On January 1, 1974, at age 65, Father Smith was enrolled in the Maryknoll Special Society Unit with residence in the Kit Sam Middle School for Girls. He was relieved of all his Regional responsibilities and allowed to pursue ministries of his choice, especially matters dealing with the Kongmoon priests and Sisters both in Hong Kong and mainland China. In the 1970s he composed a lengthy historical Chronicle of Maryknoll in Hong Kong. In 1978 he was elected Special Society Unit Representative to the Society’s Seventh General Chapter held at Maryknoll Center, New York. In May 1981 he fell ill but, after recuperation in St. Theresa’s Hospital in Hong Kong, he returned to his ministry with the Kit Sam Kongmoon Sisters in Kowloon.
Father Smith’s health gradually declined and he was transferred to St. Teresa’s Residence at Maryknoll, New York, in July 1986 where he remained until his death.
Wake services were held for Father Smith at Maryknoll Center on Sunday, November 10, 1996, first at St. Teresa’s Residence at 7:00 p.m. and at Queen of Apostles Chapel at 7:30 p.m. with Father Edward Hayes officiating. Mass of Christian burial was concelebrated in Queen of Apostles Chapel on Monday, November 11 at 11:00 a.m. with Father William Smith as Principal Celebrant and homilist. Graveside services were conducted at Maryknoll Center Cemetery by Father James Kroeger.