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Deacon Jonathan Smith always dreamed of being called ‘Father'

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Editor's note: Fr. Jonathan Smith was ordained to the priesthood June 5 at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More.

Growing up in Columbus, Ohio, Deacon Jonathan Smith wasn’t sure what he wanted to do for a living, but one thing he did know was that “I wanted to be a husband and father.” 

When he started college at George Mason University in Fairfax, “I definitely wouldn’t say I had a spiritual life, or a personal relationship with Jesus,” he said, admitting he was initially drawn to the chapel by the lure of free food after Mass. 

“Religion wasn’t super important to me, I just wanted to go to school and get good grades and get a job. I thought maybe later, when I have kids, it will be more important.”

That started to change on a beach retreat with the campus Catholic group, said Deacon Smith, 30, who will be ordained to the priesthood June 5. 

One night at Eucharistic adoration, as he sat looking at the Blessed Sacrament on a makeshift altar, “I encountered Jesus in a very personal way in the Eucharist. I remember being so struck my jaw just dropped,” he said.

Coming to know the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist was “a defining moment in my life and faith,” he said. “Realizing he is not just this being out there, but desires to have a relationship with me, I felt this new joy in my heart that I’d never experienced before.” 

Seeing a quote from Mother Teresa led to the next step on his spiritual journey. The saint’s comment that “the spiritual poverty in the West is far greater than the material poverty in India,” opened his eyes to the spiritual poverty of college students. “So many were walking away from the faith, and that was when I discovered the faith,” he said. 

After graduating in 2013, he served for two years as a missionary with FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, still clinging to the idea of “getting a good job and being married with kids,” he said. Yet it nagged at him “that Jesus wanted something more.” 

Deacon Smith’s call to the priesthood eventually became clear, again during Eucharistic adoration. “I protested to God for a little bit, but he really assured me and gave me peace in abandoning my own plans for my life and offering over my life to him, totally and completely.” 

In 2015, he entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. His first summer assignment was at the Basilica of St. Mary in Alexandria, which he said “adopted” him, and which “really did become a home parish for me.” His parents and three siblings all live in Ohio. His first assignment after ordination to the priesthood will be as parochial vicar at St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Clifton.

He looks forward to being involved with parishioners, and “being an instrument of God’s grace in their lives — whether it’s joy or sorrow, to bring God into it. As a priest, it’s not only bringing people to Jesus, it’s bringing Jesus to people,” he said. 

He loves to visit his married friends and play with their children, but Deacon Smith said he’s grown into the idea that as a priest, he will be a spiritual father to God’s people, and a spouse to the church. 

“I’m not really giving anything up,” he said.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021