Father Mike Smith, S.J. retires from parish work

By Ginny Revel
For Father Michael N. Smith, S.J., Pentecost is more than an important liturgical feast. He loves to cite how the apostles, enlivened by the power of the Holy Spirit, immediately spoke in tongues and all foreigners were able to understand them. Jesus’ Gospel was henceforth offered to, and received by, many peoples of the world.

This image embodies Fr. Mike’s approach to his life, to his ministry and to his Church. His philosophy of spirituality practices inclusiveness and acceptance of people just as they are. His favorite phrase is, “Thank you for being born,” which, of course, includes everyone.

However, according to Fr. Mike, this can be a definite challenge. “If you stay long enough in any parish, you eventually meet everyone – every type and age of people on the planet earth,” he said. “But my main job as pastor is to make all feel welcome.”

And Fr. Mike has been doing just that for nearly 50 years, ever since his ordination in 1967.

Having been born into a Catholic family in St. Louis, Missouri, it was natural for Fr. Mike to attend a Jesuit high school. And, having experienced the order’s style of teaching, he was hooked.

“Why not become a Jesuit priest?” he thought upon his graduation. “I liked what I saw and I liked what I learned. And it didn’t hurt that the Jesuits were wonderful father figures,” Fr. Mike remarked.

Fr. Mike was ordained to the priesthood in 1967. He taught at Regis High School in Denver before becoming active in campus ministry in Denver, Greeley and St. Louis. It wasn’t until the mid-80’s that he became a pastor, first in St. Louis, and then arriving in Western Colorado circa 1991.

He served at the ‘old’ Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish (Grand Junction) from 1991 through 1993, and then was assigned to Sacred Heart Parish in Paonia and St. Margaret Mary Parish in Hotchkiss until 2001. He subsequently took up his ministry at Sacred Heart Parish in Fruita and was there ever since.

Gloria Chavez, who worked with Fr. Mike for the past several years, commented on his retirement. “Father Mike’s welcoming spirit, his ‘come as you are’ approach, promoting the love of God, faith and hope are some of the qualities that have made Sacred Heart Church a thriving parish in our small community.” She added, “He is a wonderful and loved spiritual leader and will be greatly missed.”

Dave Norton, a parishioner at Sacred Heart, who is also involved in the parish’s faith formation programs, has a soft spot in his heart for Jesuits in general, and for Fr. Mike in particular.

“Because of Fr. Mike’s warm welcome to me after many years away from the Church, he earned my respect and devotion. His non-judgmental attitude extends to everyone he meets,” remarked Norton.

Holy Family Catholic School is another place where Fr. Mike’s legacy will live on long after his departure from the Grand Valley. Many students, teachers and parents have commented on Fr. Mike’s faith and his perennial trust in the goodness of God.

According to Principal Jake Aubert, watching Fr. Mike as lead school pastor for the past 14 years has given him a role model for his leadership. He mentioned the inspiration he’s drawn from Fr. Mike’s joy, calming presence, positive attitude, sense of humor and grandfatherly advice to the students. “He’s one of those people whom you love to see coming, and whom you hate to see go,” added Aubert.

Upon his retirement from parish life, Fr. Mike moved to Denver where he will be active in campus ministry at Regis University. He will also mentor low-income students at Arrupe (Jesuit) High School.

Fr. Mike noted that he is looking forward to returning to the companionship of Jesuit community living and “not being in charge of anything.” “I will miss the flow of all ages and types at my doorstep. But my next ministry is to be supportive of young people as they find their dream,” he commented.