Editor’s note: Five men were to be ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Baltimore June 20, a rite which was pushed back to Aug. 22 by the coronavirus pandemic. This is the fifth of five separate profiles of the men, which have appeared once a week on CatholicReview.org.
On the surface, Deacon Jeremy Smith was fulfilling his dreams in 2009.
He had taken advantage of top-notch educations available at Loyola Blakefield and Virginia Tech. An outdoorsman, he had what appeared to be a rewarding career as a wildlife biologist. He had a fiance, a Cape Cod in Parkville not far from his parents, and a robust social life.
After the engagement was broken off, however, Deacon Smith said he “didn’t know what to do.” He felt an emptiness inside, and would come to realize that he was abusing alcohol. He had been attending her Christian church, and had become something of a stranger to the Catholic faith in which he had been raised.
“I had feet in different waters,” he said. “I felt I was in the pits. I hit rock bottom. Emotionally, spiritually, I wasn’t there.”
His outlook on faith and life, however, were radically altered during an encounter with Father Charles J. Canterna, the veteran prison minister who will vest Deacon Smith when he is ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Baltimore Aug. 22 at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland.
It was Deacon Smith’s mother, Sandy, who pointed her troubled son to Father Canterna.
“Mom and Dad (Steve Smith) used to take us to Our Daily Bread when they were dropping off casseroles,” said Deacon Smith, one of six children. “That’s how we met Father Chuck, a man of great energy, zeal and passion. He would be high-fiving us little kids. I went back to see him, 25, 26 years later.”
Over an hour at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Baltimore, Deacon Smith bared his soul and said that Father Canterna “guided me, steered me, led me, basically, back to God.”
“I was in the world and of the world,” Deacon Smith said. “Father Chuck asked if there were any idols in my life. I said, ‘like a golden calf?’ There were. It was like a bullet to my heart. In the blink of an eye, I was enlightened. I realized that God was not No. 1 in my life. Father Chuck brought Christ to me, and me to Christ.”
That visit included Deacon Smith confessing to a priest for the first time in 18 years.
Father Canterna said that Deacon Smith “had a powerful experience of the Lord that literally changed his life.”
While Deacon Smith developed a “deep, internal desire to help others in the same context” that Father Canterna helped him, it would be three years before he became a seminarian for the archdiocese. When he headed to Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg in August 2012, he traveled light, with no regrets.
“I felt a sense of peace the morning I left for seminary,” Deacon Smith said.
His biggest travail since has been physical, ironic for a man who placed third in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association wrestling tournament as a Loyola Blakefield senior, and is pictured on the archdiocesan Vocations website at the National March for Life in his hunting jacket.
Three years ago, Deacon Smith spent months undergoing tests before he was finally diagnosed with a bacterial infection in his blood. Instead of being at the Mount for the 2017-18 school year, he spent most of it in residence at St. Philip Neri in Linthicum Heights, not far from where he had worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ensuring that the runways at Thurgood Marshall BWI Airport were clear of wildlife.
He still enjoys God’s creation, just in different ways.
“Discernment is always a battleground,” Deacon Smith said. “You make sacrifices to be a seminarian or priest, but God always rewards you for what you give to him.”
After his ordination, Deacon Smith will serve Immaculate Conception Parish in Towson as an associate pastor.
What qualities will make Deacon Smith a good priest?
“His desire to grow in holiness and his desire to serve,” Father Canterna said. “He also has a gift for being with the people.”
SPONSORING PARISH: St. Ursula, Parkville
FAMILY: son of Steve and Sandy Smith; one sister and four brothers
EDUCATION: St. Thomas More School, Baltimore, and St. Ursula School, Parkville; Loyola Blakefield; bachelor’s in Wildlife Management, Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.; master’s of Theology, Mount St. Mary’s Seminary
PASTORAL ASSIGNMENTS: St. Philip Neri in Linthicum Heights; St. John the Evangelist, Severna Park; St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Crofton; St. Louis in Clarksville; St. Agnes, Catonsville; Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Essex; St. Mary, Hagerstown
Email Paul McMullen at pmcmullen@CatholicReview.org
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