Fr. Ignatius Smith, OFM

Fr. Ignatius Smith, OFMFrancis has always been important in my life. Both grandfathers were named Francis as well as my own dear father and brother. I grew up in Northeast Washington, D.C., in the shadow of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land. The brown habit of the poor man of Assisi was a familiar sight to my young eyes.

As a young boy, I envisioned myself clothed in the Franciscan habit, bringing Christ to all who did not know him. But the infatuations of adolescence soon dulled the youthful calling to be a Franciscan.

But it never left me. One evening, I was crossing the lawn of Holy Name College, our Franciscan house of studies, and I met Fr. Matt Conlin, OFM, and Fr. Pascal Foley, OFM, who were students at the time. I was a senior in high school but to my parents’ dismay had made no mention of continuing my education in college. “Joe, where are you going to college,” Matt inquired. “I haven’t decided,” was my guarded reply. “I think you would make a fine Franciscan; come and see us tomorrow.”

I did, and to my dismay, in September, I was on my way to St. Joseph’s Seraphic Seminary in Callicoon, N.Y. I still thank God for these two friars who put me on the road to happiness and fulfillment as a Franciscan priest.

My life as a Franciscan priest has truly been a great adventure. I was ordained on Sept. 8, 1956, and sent to Brazil as a missionary. I spent more than 10 happy years in that wonderful land of good, simple country people who truly loved their God and their families. I learned so much from them about myself, my vocation and how to love God and my neighbor.

God’s plans for us are certainly not our plans. After my rural life in Brazil, I found myself in the Chaplain Corps of the U.S. Navy. It still amazes me how it all happened. But it did, and with God’s help I did my best to bear fruit where I was planted. It was certainly a different world from Brazil. I encountered so many young people looking for their place in life. This Franciscan served at Naval hospitals, on ships and foreign shore. But always called to be the pastor — the father figure — to the kids of all faiths or no faith at all.

It was a great everyday challenge: some days succeeding, some days failing. I was there, in this very secular environment, to help put God in his rightful place in their young lives. The Franciscan habit, when worn, was greatly respected and helped the formation of these young sailors and marines.

After more than 23 years in the Chaplain Corps USN, I returned to work in Holy Name Province, my home.

For the last 14 years, I have served as pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Callicoon. Yes, the circle is complete. I started out in Callicoon, and I’m finishing my Franciscan journey in Callicoon. As always, the wonderful people, the beautiful location and being a welcomed guest in the lives of so many — in both joyful and sorrowful times, is a great honor.

Having been a Franciscan priest for 52 wonderful years, I am still amazed that as a priest of God, I can give the faithful the body and blood of Jesus Christ during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

It’s been a great life. It couldn’t get better than this. I offer my eternal gratitude to all who encouraged my Franciscan vocation: my loving parents, Francis and Mary Lenore; the Holy Cross Sisters from my grade school years; the Christian Brothers for my high school years; the friars I have met along the way; and yes, you, our benefactors of St. Anthony’s Guild who helped support me through the years.

Thank you, it’s been a wonderful life!

— This essay was written in 2009 while Fr. Ignatius was pastor of Holy Cross Church in Callicoon, N.Y. It appeared in the Summer 2009 issue of The Anthonian.