The Aug. 23 ordination of six permanent deacons was a joyous but poignant occasion for Deacon John Smith, who’s been involved in diaconal formation for the Denver Archdiocese since 1979. The class was the last he will bring to ordination here.
Deacon Smith, 73, is retiring from the St. Francis School of Theology for Deacons at the end of the month. He began serving as director of diaconal formation in 2006.
Deacon Mark Salvato became director of formation last year while Deacon Smith brought his final two classes—another group of permanent deacons was ordained in January—to ordination.
“They are good, holy men,” Deacon Smith said of his last groups, adding, “I will always consider the diaconate community here as my brothers.”
And while he considers Denver his home diocese even though he’s commuted from Mesquite, Nev., to minister here the last 12 years, he’s not pining for what was. Rather, he aims to increase the ministry he’s been involved with at his home parish, La Virgen de Guadalupe, in Mesquite.
“I always look to what God is calling me to, not what he’s calling me from,” Deacon Smith said. “Jesus says, ‘God is the God of the living,’ and I always understand that in terms of not looking backwards and not projecting forwards, but staying focused on where I’m at.”
Ordained April 15, 1978, in Denver by Archbishop James Casey, since his ordination Deacon Smith has primarily ministered in diaconal formation—35 of his 36 years—either fulltime or in addition to other apostolates. Just two years after his ordination, he helped restructure the then just 4-year-old deacon formation program. His service has included 18 years as a chaplain at St. Anthony Hospital, 10 years of parish ministry at St. Joan of Arc in Arvada, two years as pastoral administrator at Holy Family Church in Denver, and several years in jail and prison ministry through St. Joseph Parish in Golden.
Four years ago, Deacon Smith and his wife, Kathy, were honored with a papal award, the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (“For the Church and Pontiff”) for exceptional service to the Church.
“Deacon John’s prayerful dedication and zeal for his vocation is a humble reflection of Jesus Christ the Servant,” said Deacon Joe Donohoe, director of Deacon Personnel. “He may be making his home in Nevada, but the fruits of his ministry will live on in Denver through the many deacons who have been touched in such a positive and powerful way by Deacon John. We will miss him and his wife, Kathy.”
A transplant to Colorado from California, Deacon Smith spent four years in the U.S. Air Force and has a bachelor’s degree in religious studies from Regis University, philosophy and psychology degrees from Metropolitan State College and a doctorate in psychology from The Union Institute. Married 49 years to Kathy, the couple has two children and four grandchildren.
His diaconal ministry has given him the opportunity to witness miracles of healing in people’s lives and has caused his and his wife’s faith to deepen as well as taught them to rely on God’s providence.
“God was like a hound pushing me to do this. It wasn’t anything I wanted to do,” Deacon Smith said of his call to the diaconate. “It wasn’t until I agreed to give him 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year that I finally had peace.”
He’s sought to be faithful to his call, and God has been faithful in return.
“God always provides,” he said.
His favorite part of diaconal formation ministry?
“I always greatly enjoyed watching the men getting ordained and then going out to serve the Church and God,” he said. “It’s like a little piece of me is out there with them.”