For Monsignor Tom Smith, faith and family were not just intertwined; they were the very same thing. Father Tom was my great-uncle, my grandfather’s oldest brother, our family patriarch, resident genealogist, and a constant reminder that family is more than just shared blood: it’s a community based around shared history, culture, and beliefs. He passed away earlier this week.
Some background. Most families aren’t like the Smiths. Some of my fondest childhood memories are butchering days on the farm. Our Thanksgiving dinner regularly has over hundred guests. Yes, it’s in the social hall attached to a church. And we don’t just say grace before the meal; we have a full Catholic mass.
It was during these masses that Father Tom would remind us of our ties to each other, to our ancestors and to future generations.
If you were a Smith boy, you probably remembered Father Tom in one other role – as an avid recruiter to the priesthood. He was constantly looking for his successor in the family. He’d show up to family events with gifts – books on discernment, biographies of great priests, etc. He got me out of school once to go down to Mount Saint Mary’s and hang out with the seminarians for the day.
I remember a particular moment during my senior year of high school. I was sitting in Ms. Furlong’s AP American Government class and I was called down to the principal’s office over the loud speaker. After the requisite “ooh, what did you dos” from my friends I headed downstairs to find not my high school principal, but the Bishop.
“So you’re Tom Smith’s nephew,” he said to me, and then proceeded with the hard sell.
You have to admit, it’s impressive that the guy could get the Bishop to do his dirty work for him.
Alas, the calling for the priesthood never came, but Father Tom never stopped tending the flock that is his family. He always made a point to connect at family functions, and his message about the importance of a close family has resonated with me over the years. (As a complete aside, it was Father Tom that introduced me to the concept of beer flights about a decade ago, so I also have him to thank for that vice.)
Having a big family can be tough. It’s loud and unwieldy. It’s impossible to keep track of who everyone is – is that an in-law or one of so-and-so’s kids? And it’s tough because you have that many more people to care about. My grandmother passed away a few months ago and it still feels like yesterday. On Saturday we will put another dear member of our clan to rest.
But as tough as having a big family can be, I wouldn’t have it any other way. There is a proverb I love for both happy and sad occasions: sharing experiences with others multiplies our joy and divides our grief. And we have each other. So many of each other. It makes the highs of life that much higher and the lows more bearable.
Thanks for everything, Father Tom. You will be missed. But you, and the ideals you espoused, will not be forgotten.
To read Father’s obituary, check out: http://obits.pennlive.com/obituaries/pennlive/obituary.aspx?n=thomas-h-smith&pid=172330829&fhid=22884