James Francis MM
* Birth in Norwalk, Connecticut,
USA: [18 November 1908]
Father James F. Smith, M.M.
Former Hong Kong Maryknoller Father James
Smith died at St. Teresa’s Residence, Maryknoll, New York, on Wednesday, 6 November 1996.
He was 87 years of age and a Maryknoll Priest for 61 years.
James Francis Smith was born in Norwalk, Connecticut, USA, on 18 November 1908, son of Patrick and Elizabeth Smith. He had three brothers one of whom is Father William C. Smith of the Norwalk, Connecticut Diocese, and four sisters. After his schooling in New York City, he entered St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, New York, to study for the diocesan priesthood. But the call to mission decided his future and he transferred to Maryknoll Seminary where he was ordained a priest in 1935.
Following ordination, Father Smith was assigned on 28 July 1935 to the Maryknoll missions in South China. After a year of Cantonese language and cultural studies in Hong Kong, he spent two years as assistant pastor of the Yeung Kong parish in the Kongmoon vicariate and then for the next four years taught at the minor seminary in Pak Kaai. Although the Japanese occupied the Kongmoon area during three of the four years Father Smith was at the seminary, it was not until after the beginning of the Pacific War in December of 1941 that Father Smith along with other Kongmoon Maryknollers was placed in “protective custody.” After four months, he succeeded in “escaping” to Chungking. He was then sent down to Kunnming to look after the wartime needs of Maryknollers and at the same time act as a contract chaplain for the US Army personnel stationed there.
At war’s end, Father Smith returned to New York and was appointed vocation director in the Maryknoll development department from 1946 to 1949. When Maryknoll accepted Transfiguration Parish in New York City’s Chinatown, Father Smith was appointed the first Maryknoll pastor. During that time, he reorganized the 118 years old parish and paid off its large debt.
On 27 April 1953, Father Smith was named society superior for the Maryknoll missions in Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Philippines with residence in Hong Kong. After the reorganisation of Asian mission responsibilities by the fourth general chapter in 1956, he served a term as regional superior of the new Taiwan / Hong Kong region. During this time, Father Smith also began to serve as the representative of the Kongmoon bishop in exile looking after the needs of the Kongmoon diocese.
When he completed his term as regional superior, he was placed in charge of Hong Kong’s Fenwick Pier to minister to American servicemen on leave in Hong Kong. In 1961, he was appointed pastor of the new Lo Fu Ngam parish, a squatter area with no church. In 1962, he was appointed director of the Maryknoll Language School in Stanley, which closed after three years due to a lack of students.
In 1965, Father Smith was asked to open St. Edward’s primary school and parish in Lam Tin, a new resettlement estate of 50000 refugees. Afterwards, he said that his most interesting years as a missionary were spent in building up that new parish. Also in 1965, he was appointed chair of the diocesan welfare conference and also served as the weekend “English language” pastor of St. Anne’s Parish in Stanley.
In 1969 he was appointed secretary of an ad hoc committee in Hong Kong formed to discuss ways and means of rebuilding the church in China should missionaries be allowed back. He was also involved in retreat work and ecumenical activities during those years. But as grew older, three works became the focus of his activities.
First, he served the Kongmoon diocese as the pastoral and spiritual director of the refugee Kongmoon Sisters and priests in Hong Kong, counselling and assisting them when needed. He also supervised the six primary and secondary schools staffed by the Sisters. And second, he concentrated his energy on helping the Kongmoon Sisters launch a new secondary school, the Kit Sam Middle School for Girls. He had already helped the Sisters in the establishment of their novitiate in Hong Kong. And finally, he concentrated on continuing a monthly newsletter he wrote about life in Hong Kong and Mainland China and which he sent to select “Old China Hands” around the world.
On 1 January 1974, at age 65, Father Smith retired from full-time Maryknoll mission ministry, which gave him the opportunity to compile a lengthy chronicle of Maryknoll’s work in Hong Kong.
In 1981, Father Smith suffered a severe heart attack but after treatment was able to continuing working in Hong Kong for another several years. But gradually his mental and physical health declined and in July 1986, he was sent to St. Teresa’s Residence at Maryknoll, New York, where he remained until his death.
22 November 1996
◆ 先賢錄－－香港天主教神職及男女修會會士 (1841-2010), 天主教香港教區檔案處, 2010.
◆ Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers in Hong Kong 1920-2010, Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers, 2011.
◆ 美國天主教傳教會與香港, 何心平著, 香港中文大學天主教研宄中心, 2011.