Monday, November 19, 2007

Remembering Fr. Smith

Providence, RI -- Rev. Philip Alphonsus Smith, O.P., Providence College's 11th president, was remembered "as a child of God from the day he was baptized" during his Mass of Christian Burial on Friday, November 9, 2007 in St. Dominic Chapel on campus. Father Smith died unexpectedly at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence on Sunday, November 4. A current professor of philosophy at PC, he served as president from 1994-2005.

Approximately 650 members and friends of the College community, including 35 members of Father Smith's family as well as city and state government dignitaries, attended the Mass, overflowing into the lower level of the chapel.

The principal celebrant was the Very Rev. D. Dominic Izzo, O.P., prior provincial of the Dominican Province of St. Joseph and chair of the PC Corporation. The principal concelebrants were College President Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P.; Rev. Kenneth R. Sicard, O.P., College executive vice president and treasurer; Rev. Terence J. Keegan, O.P., professor of theology and College executive vice president and treasurer under Father Smith; and Rev. William P. Marquis, O.P., prior of St. Thomas Aquinas Priory and an assistant professor of economics and department chair.

Approximately 40 Friars from the Dominican Community at PC concelebrated the Mass from their pews.

Presiding were six bishops representing the Diocese of Providence: the Most Rev. Thomas J. Tobin, D.D., current ordinary bishop of Providence and a member of the Providence College Corporation and the Board of Trustees; the Most Rev. Robert E. Mulvee, D.D., bishop emeritus of Providence; the Most Rev. Louis E. Gelineau, D.D., bishop emeritus of Providence; the Most Rev. George H. Pearce, S.M., archbishop emeritus of Suva, Fiji; the Most Rev. Ernest B. Boland, O.P., D.D., bishop emeritus of Multan, Pakistan, and a resident of St. Thomas Aquinas Priory at PC, who ordained Father Smith in 1968; and the Most Rev. Francis X. Roque, D.D., retired auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese for the Military Services/U.S.A.

In addition, four of Father Smith's seminary classmates--with whom he was ordained- -participated in the Mass: Father Keegan, who preached the homily, as well as Rev. Michael M. Burke, O.P., Rev. Bernard G. Dupont, O.P., and Rev. Donald P. Thibault, O.P., who traveled from New Orleans, La., Louisville, Ky., and Pleasantville, N.Y., respectively, to celebrate their Dominican brother's life.

Father Smith's niece, Jill Dunn '00, and his sister, Bertha Smith Dunn, proclaimed readings from the Book of Wisdom and the First Letter of John, respectively. The General Intersessions were proclaimed by two of Father Smith's nieces, Gwen Carragher Staub and Nora Smith Davis, while the offertory gifts were presented by two other nieces, Linda Mae Smith and Donna Smith Taucer.

At the start of his homily, Father Keegan addressed why a healthy and vibrant Father Smith was taken so suddenly.

"It's a simple answer and an answer I give to my ninety-seven-year-old mother when she asks me, 'Why am I still alive?'" said Father Keegan with a smile. "I tell her, 'Mother, you're still alive because God doesn't want you yet.' I firmly believe God wanted Father Philip Smith; it was his plan."

Father Keegan went on to laud Father Smith's tenure as College president. After saying that he joked with him about a College president "who went to hell and another who died and went to heaven," Father Keegan said there was no question where his friend of 46 years was.

"I don't know another person on Earth who had a greater love for Providence College than Father Philip Smith," he said. "There are so many reasons why we are here. He had a deep and meaningful influence on our lives….He was so many things to so many of us."

In referencing the earlier Gospel from St. John, Father Keegan added, "He was a rugged, strong, assertive person but inside he was a child of God. He was a child of God from the day he was baptized. He loved his priesthood, loved the Dominican Order, and loved to exercise his ministry."

On the day of the previous week when Father Smith was about to be driven to the hospital for surgery, Father Keegan recounted how Father Smith asked for his blessing and knelt before him.

"As I blessed him," Father Keegan said, "I prayed that the operation would be a success and that God would bring him safely home." He then added, "Be careful what you pray for because you might get it. The operation was a success and God did bring him home, not to his perishable, temporary home at Providence College but to his real, eternal home in heaven."

Referring to a passage in Mark's Gospel where Jesus knelt before John the Baptist and heard a voice from heaven, Father Keegan concluded, "Father Smith was indeed God's beloved son in whom God was well pleased."

After Communion, Father Smith's successor as president, Father Shanley, offered a reflection. He remembered Father Smith as a visionary whose goals for the College blossomed to magnificent fruition.

Father Shanley specifically noted the artificial-turf field, the Smith Center for the Arts and, most importantly, St. Dominic Chapel, as proof that Father Smith "was a builder" and "connected to the mission of Providence College."

"He left this place a much stronger institution than when he entered," Father Shanley said. "I know how tirelessly and passionately he worked."

He went on to say how impressed he was with Father Smith's drive to get back to teaching following his presidency. "After 11 years of not being in the classroom, having to face down eighteen- to twenty-one-year--olds is a daunting task, but he was up to it," he said.

However, despite his gifts as a teacher and his vision for the campus, Father Shanley said that Father Smith was first and foremost a priest who shined brightest in one-on-one situations. "I think that is when we saw Father Smith at his absolute best. He had a wonderful way of encountering a person in need and then presenting Christ to them," he said.

After the Mass, hundreds processed down the College's Grotto Lane to the Dominican Community Cemetery, where Father Marquis presided over the burial rite.

Video from the funeral Mass can be downloaded from the Providence College website.

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