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Bishop John M. Smith, J.C.D., D.D.

Bishop Emeritus John M. Smith, J.C.D., D.D.

Ninth Bishop of Trenton from 1997 to 2010

"Servite Domino In Laetitia"

Serve the Lord With Gladness


 A message from Bishop Smith



Most Rev. John Mortimer Smith, J.C.D., D.D. a native of New Jersey, served as the Ninth Bishop of Trenton.

Born and raised in Orange, New Jersey, he was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Newark by Archbishop Thomas A. Boland in 1961. Pope John Paul II named him an Auxiliary Bishop of Newark in 1987, and he was ordained a Bishop in Sacred Heart Basilica Cathedral on January 25, 1988.

He was appointed Bishop of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee in Florida by Pope John Paul II in 1991. Four years later, Bishop Smith was named Coadjutor Bishop of Trenton by Pope John Paul II. He succeeded Bishop John C. Reiss as Bishop of Trenton and served from 1997-2010.

Early Life

John M. Smith was born in Orange on June 23, 1935, the oldest son of Mrs. Ethel Charnock Smith and Mortimer F. Smith, now both deceased. He has two brothers, Andrew is a Benedictine priest at Saint Mary Abbey in Morristown, New Jersey, and Gregory is a resident of Westboro, Massachusetts.

He attended Saint John Parochial Elementary School in Orange, New Jersey, and Saint Benedict Preparatory School in Newark, New Jersey. Later, he attended John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio, prior to beginning his studies for the priesthood in 1955 at Immaculate Conception Seminary, Darlington, New Jersey.

He received a bachelor's degree in classical languages from Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, in 1957, and a bachelor's degree in Sacred Theology from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in 1961.


Priestly Life

He was ordained a priest in Sacred Heart Cathedral in Newark, New Jersey, by Archbishop Thomas A. Boland on May 27, 1961. As a newly ordained priest, he was appointed to the Archdiocesan Chancery Office and assigned to graduate studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Bishop Smith also received a doctorate in canon law from Catholic University in 1966.

Bishop Smith served as assistant chancellor of the Archdiocese of Newark, defender of the bond in the Archdiocesan Matrimonial Tribunal, and Archdiocesan Coordinator of the English Cursillo Movement.

Bishop Smith was a visiting professor in pastoral theology at Immaculate Conception Seminary, served six years as an elected representative on the Newark Archdiocesan Council of Priests, and three years as Dean of Central Bergen County. In 1971, he was named a Papal Chamberlain with the title "Monsignor" by Pope Paul VI.

In June of 1973, Bishop Smith was appointed to the first team ministry at Saint Joseph Church in Oradell, New Jersey, by Archbishop Boland, where he served for nine years as a parish priest.


Service in Rome

In 1982, Bishop Smith was appointed to the faculty of the Pontifical North American College in Rome as director of the Institute for Continuing Theological Education and Program Director of the U.S. Bishops' Consultation IV.

After spending four years in Rome, Bishop Smith was appointed pastor of Saint Mary Church, in Dumont, New Jersey, in June of 1986 by Archbishop Peter L. Gerety. Shortly thereafter, then-Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick was installed as Archbishop of Newark, and Bishop Smith was named chairman of the Archdiocesan Vocation Board. He was appointed Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia on November 15, 1986.

Greetings, Holy Father – During the years he served on the faculty of the Pontifical North American College in Rome as director of the Institute for Continuing Theological Education and program director of the U.S. Bishops’ Consultation IV, from 1982 to 1986, then Father Smith had occasion to personally greet Pope John Paul II.


Diocesan Service

Bishop Smith was named Auxiliary Bishop of Newark by Pope John Paul II on December 1, 1987. Bishop Smith was appointed the Third Bishop of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee in Florida by Pope John Paul II on June 25, 1991, and was installed on July 31, 1991.

Under Bishop Smith's leadership, the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee went through a period of growth and development.

The diocese, though geographically larger than the Diocese of Trenton, had a much smaller Catholic population, but that began to change as more adults were received into the Church and Catholic retirees began relocating to the area. Bishop Smith oversaw a number of expansion projects in Pensacola-Tallahassee, including the construction of new churches and the expansion or renovation of existing properties.

He also led the faithful through some particularly challenging times, including a rash of hurricanes that devastated the region in 1995. Bishop Smith made a pledge to do all he could to help victims of the storms, even cancelling a planned meeting with Pope John Paul II during the pontiff's 1995 visit to the U.S. to devote his time to hurricane relief efforts.

Pope John Paul II transferred Bishop Smith from the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee on November 25, 1995, appointing him Coadjutor Bishop of Trenton. Bishop Smith succeeded Retired Bishop John C. Reiss on July 1, 1997. He launched the Inaugural Bishop's Annual Appeal on February 5, 2000, which has been vital to continuing the programs and services within the Diocese, and funding many new initiatives.


Domestic and International Service

Since his Episcopal Ordination in 1987, Bishop Smith has served on the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Nominations and the United States Catholic Conference Communications Committee. He has also served on the Board of Directors of the North American College in Rome.

He has served as a member of the Bishops' Committee on Migration and Refugee Services, the Southeast Regional Office for Hispanic Affairs, and the Southeast Pastoral Institute. He was a trustee of Saint Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida, Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Saint Joseph Seminary College in Saint Benedict, Louisiana.

Bishop Smith served six years on the Board of Directors of Catholic Relief Services and made five visits to Africa on behalf of the board. He is a member of the Board of Regents of Seton Hall University and the Board of Trustees of Saint Francis Medical Center in Trenton, New Jersey. Presently, Bishop Smith is a former member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy.


Major Initiatives in the Trenton Diocese

In his 13 years leading the Diocese of Trenton, Bishop Smith is responsible for fostering numerous initiatives that have served the people of the diocese and beyond.

Following the call of Pope John Paul II to place ever-advancing communications technologies at the service of the Gospel, Bishop Smith oversaw the diocese's establishment of an Internet presence with the launch of the diocesan website,, in 2000. He also championed an addition to the diocese's existing radio and television programming with the newly-created teen talk show, "Realfaith TV", which is seen on cable television and online throughout North America and has garnered numerous prestigious awards. To reach the growing Hispanic Catholic community, Bishop Smith ushered in the development of the new Spanish-language television program, "Cristo Para Todos".

The diocese's online presence has grown significantly in the decade that followed, with an expanded online presence for the diocese's Hispanic Apostolate; vocations (; the sanctity of human life ( and, in 2009, launch of the diocesan newspaper's website,

Bishop Smith has also shepherded the diocese toward new ways to be Church in response to new and changing realities. As part of the call to empower the laity and prepare lay men and women for ministry in the diocese, Bishop Smith created the Institute for Lay Ecclesial Ministry, which has formed and commissioned 110 individuals to date.

In order that parishes might be more effective and engaging in their ministry and outreach to their parishioners and the wider community, particularly in response to population changes and a declining number of priests, Bishop Smith set forth "The 11 Elements of a Vibrant Parish" in 2000 and launched a consultative study process in the years that followed in support of those ideals. The study gave rise to parish restructuring that reduced the number of parishes to 111 to date, and pointed to areas of interparochial cooperation and collaboration to enhance their ability to serve the shared needs of their people.

With declining enrollment in Catholic schools, Bishop Smith also called for a strategic planning process to determine the best ways to preserve Catholic education in the diocese for generations to come. In January 2006, Bishop Smith announced the "Commitment to Excellence" initiative and action plan that enumerated new measures in school leadership, marketing and financial management, and benchmarks that schools needed to achieve in enrollment, class size and curriculum development.

In August 2009, Bishop Smith officially inaugurated and promulgated a new diocesan pastoral plan, "Led By the Spirit," the result of nearly two years of consultation with Catholics throughout the diocese. The plan identifies seven pastoral priorities -- dealing with charity and justice, pastoral leadership, ethnic diversity, youth and young adult ministry, faith formation and Sunday worship - and resulted in a restructuring of the diocesan administrative structure that better supports the priorities. Since the promulgation, all parishes have been engaged in developing action plans in service to "Led By the Spirit."


Transition and Retirement

With the appointment on June 4, 2010 of a coadjutor bishop, Bishop Smith welcomed Vincentian Father David M. O'Connell, former president of The Catholic University of America. On July 30, 2010, Bishop Smith served as the principal consecrator in the Episcopal ordination of his soon-to-be successor, Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M.

On Dec. 1, 2010, Bishop Smith's resignation, which had been submitted to Rome in accordance with canon law, was accepted by Pope Benedict XVI. In his retirement, Bishop Smith remains active, celebrating Mass throughout the diocese and traveling abroad.


Bishop Smith Coat of Arms

  • A bishop’s coat-of-arms derives from medieval heraldry. When Bishop John M. Smith was named an auxiliary bishop of Newark and given the Titular See of The Taverne, a device was designed for him by Paul J. Sullivan.
  • When he became Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee, the coat-of-arms of the diocese was added to his device. When he became Coadjutor Bishop of the Trenton Diocese, he returned to his former device. Then, when he became Bishop of Trenton, the coat-of-arms of the Trenton Diocese was added to his personal device. Upon his retirement as Bishop of Trenton, the coat-of-arms reverted to its original version.
  • Bishop Smith’s episcopal motto, “Servite Domino in Laetitia,” was originally in Latin. It translates in English to “Serve the Lord With Gladness.”
  • Bishop Smith said he chose this motto, which was taken from Psalm 100:2, because it expressed his desire “that all of us, as God’s children, may serve him, and each other, with gladness in our hearts.”
  • Blazon: Per pale Or and Azure; Dexter, a lily above an “M,” below a crescent between four stars, all of the second; Sinister, a lion rampant of the first below to chief dexter two tablets of the law, Argent on a tongue of fire of the first; on a chief Gules, a diadem of the first between two fleur-de-lis of the third.
  • Significance: The bishop’s coat-of-arms is composed of a shield, with its charges, a motto scroll and the extended ornaments. The shield, which is the central and most important feature of any heraldic device, is described (blazoned) in the 12th century terms as if it were being worn on the arm and is being viewed from the rear. Thus, it must be understood that, the terms dexter and sinister are reversed as the design is viewed from the front.
  • For his personal arms, Bishop Smith selected a series of symbols to reflect his ministries in the Church. The first section in the gold area, at the lower left of the shield, on which are displayed a blue “M” taken from the arms of Pope John Paul II, who appointed Bishop Smith to the episcopacy; for the Blessed Virgin Mary, because Bishop Smith’s appointment had come during the Marian Year.
  • The “M” is placed below a blue lily to honor St. Joseph. These symbols are joined together because of his pastoral association with St. Joseph Parish, Oradell, and St. Mary Parish, Dumont. Above the “M” and the lily is a blue crescent to honor the Blessed Mother in her title of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of the United States, the Archdiocese of New York and the North American College, Rome, where Bishop Smith served. The crescent is surrounded by four blue stars to represent the four points of the compass, since students from the North, South, East and West make up the body of the North American College.
  • On the other side of the shield is a blue field on which are displayed a gold lion rampant, taken from the Smith family coat-of-arms. The lion is placed below the tablets of the law, in silver, which are placed over a gold tongue of fire, for the Holy Spirit, to signify that Bishop Smith is a canon lawyer.
  • The upper portion of the shield, known as a chief, is red, on which is placed two fleur-de-lis, one each taken from the arms of Archbishop Thomas A. Boland and Archbishop Peter L. Gerety, on either side of a gold diadem, taken from the arms of Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, honoring the bishops and archbishops of Newark, where Bishop Smith served during his priestly life and where he later served in the fullness of Christ’s priesthood, as a bishop.
  • The device is completed with the external ornaments which are a gold processional cross, which is placed in back of the shield and which extends above and below the shield, and a pontifical hat, called a gallero, with its six tassels, in three rows, on either side of the shield, all in green. These are the heraldic insignia of prelate of the rank of bishop, by instruction of the Holy See of March 31, 1969.

The Catholic Diocese of Trenton, 701 Lawrenceville Road, Trenton, NJ 08648