Smith appointed archbishop of Edmonton

  • April 16, 2007
OTTAWA - Pembroke Bishop Richard Smith said he was surprised to be appointed as archbishop of Edmonton, but he trusts that God will give him the grace to serve where he is called.
"My radar screen was Pembroke," Smith said in a March 22 interview, the day his appointment was officially announced.  "My prayer is just to seek to the Lord's grace that I can do what He's asking me to do. Any bishop realizes that the only real thing he can offer is his own weakness and limits and it's grace that needs to take over and do the work.

"But when you give that over to the Lord He is always faithful. And that's the basis of any confidence and hope we have."

Smith also holds the people of Pembroke in his prayers.

"I've grown to love the place and the clergy and the people. I know the Lord will provide them with a wonderful shepherd."  

The Halifax-born Smith, 48, is the youngest bishop in Canada except for Edmonton Ukrainian Catholic Eparchial Bishop David Motiuk, 45, who was installed on March 24. Smith will be replacing Archbishop Thomas Collins who earlier this year moved on to take over as archbishop of Toronto.

Since his ordination as bishop in June 2002, Smith has cut a prominent swath, having served as president of the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops (OCCB) for the past three years and as national spiritual advisor to the Catholic Women's League. As OCCB president, he presented the Ontario bishops' report to Pope Benedict XVI during last year's ad limina visits to Rome.

In Pembroke, a rural diocese in the   Ottawa Valley, Smith has brought some new personnel on board and overseen the establishment of a branch of the St. Vincent de Paul Society to assist in local outreach. Like many other dioceses, Pembroke has faced ongoing parish reorganizations.    

Smith said one project that has been  "unfolding beautifully" is a partnership with the diocese of Lima in Peru, an effort made in response to John Paul II's call for co-operation between dioceses of the North and South. Last November 40 people made a pilgrimage to Lima, and Pembroke is in the midst of a fund-raising campaign that will provide 1,000 children with better nutrition and educational support for parents.

Smith has been to Edmonton twice. He attended the 50th anniversary of Edmonton's Marian Centre, an outreach to the poor run by Madonna House, a lay apostolate headquartered in the Pembroke diocese. He also led a retreat for Edmonton priests, something he now calls  "providential" because it allowed him to get to know some of the  "wonderful group of priests" there.

Born in 1959, Smith attended primary schools and secondary schools in Halifax and obtained his first degree from Saint Mary's University. He went on to get a master's degree in divinity from the Atlantic School of Theology, then studied four years at the   Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome where he earned a licentiate and a doctorate in theology.

He grew up in a devout Catholic family, regularly attending Mass at the parish of Spryfield, which he said has  "always blessed with wonderful pastors."

Smith's call to the priesthood was awakened by  "a lot of exposure to good men who just wanted to serve the Lord and serve the church" and seeing  "the wonderful difference they were making in people's lives," Smith said. He served in several parishes in the Halifax archdiocese after his ordination in 1987, including a stint as vicar general.

The Edmonton archdiocese serves 333,000 Catholics in 137 parishes and missions served by 75 diocesan priests, 87 religious priests, two permanent deacons, 379 religious men and women, and 52 lay pastoral workers.

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