Meet the Chaplain: Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith – Portland Chapter
Smith has been the vicar general and moderator of the curia for the Archdiocese of Portland since his episcopal ordination in 2014.
In a recent interview with Legatus magazine, Bishop Smith, 60, a native of South Africa who emigrated to the United States and was ordained a priest in June 2001, said he was “gobsmacked” when the papal nuncio called to inform he was being ordained a bishop.
As a naturalized citizen and member of the Brotherhood of the People of Praise, a small community of men committed to celibate life whose priest- members are incardinated in the Portland Archdiocese, Bishop Smith brings a unique perspective to his roles as an auxiliary bishop and as chaplain of Legatus’ Portland Chapter.
When did you discern the priesthood was your vocation?
I had joined this lay movement and then this group of brothers within it. I had been living as a brother for a number of years when the possibility of being ordained but continuing to live the life of the community became real. We were given permission to start a new association, and when that happened, I remember my discernment was, “Lord if you make this happen, I’ll go ahead.” So the door opened.
How did you come to join the Brotherhood of the People of Praise?
I met two of the leaders of the larger lay movement at a conference in South Africa. I was finishing business school at the time, and then I went on to law school. When I finished law school, I decided to come visit them before I moved on with my career. I was planning to join my father’s law firm back as a corporate lawyer, but the Lord had other ideas.
How would you describe the spirituality of the Brotherhood of the People of Praise?
It’s one of the lay movements that emerged after Vatican II. We emerged out of that as essentially lay people trying to live holy lives in the world, in community, and continuing with whatever mission of the Church comes their way.
Do you often visit South Africa?
I try to go back once a year. My mother is still alive and lives there. I have five siblings, two of whom live in South Africa. It’s a long trip. The travel is anywhere between 22 to 23 hours on planes, in a 36-hour period, and that’s not cheap.
As a naturalized citizen of the U.S., does it give you a distinct viewpoint of the Church in America?
I see things from a somewhat different perspective and have different sensitivities than perhaps people here would have. You’re a product of your culture, and when you move to another culture you have to learn to adapt. Being an immigrant is very helpful in being able to speak to that issue, being able to tell people, “Hey, I understand. I went through the legal immigration process. It was pretty arduous and there were moments there when I didn’t know what was going to happen, but the good Lord sorted it all out.” So I have sympathy for people who have to navigate the system.
Who are your spiritual role models?
A lot of the saints and a lot of the holy men and women. Somebody I read anytime he puts something out in English is Franciscan Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher to the papal household, who’s written a lot of books on renewal movements in the Church and ecumenism. His book, Life in Christ, about personal friendship with Christ, is probably one of the best spiritual books I’ve read.
How would you describe your personal spirituality?
Friendship with the indwelling Christ and Trinity. It’s been a long journey to get to this point over the years, but I’ve had a wonderful spiritual director for 30 years, and he’s been just wonderful, helping me to navigate through my journey in life.