A familiar face on campus for more than 40 years, Fr. Francis (Frank) Smith, S.J., taught Shakespeare, Chaucer, British Literature and other courses at John Carroll until he moved to the Colombiere Center in Clarkston, Mich., a retirement home for Jesuits, in 2006. Fr. Smith taught and advised students, read his poetry work, presided at Mass to his loyal community parish in Rodman Chapel, and worked out with students in the gym. The former English professor passed away Dec. 13, 2012, at the age of 92.
Fr. Smith was born on May 22, 1920, to Thomas and Ella (Stack) Smith of Lorain, Ohio. One of four brothers, he’s survived by his brother, James, of San Diego. He graduated from St. Mary’s High School in Lorain, Ohio, then entered the Society of Jesus in 1939. Fr. Smith held degrees in literature, philosophy, and theology, including an M.A. from Oxford University. On June 18, 1952, he was ordained a priest.
Before becoming an English professor at JCU in 1963, Fr. Smith taught Latin and English at the University of Detroit High School (1946-1949) and English at the University of Detroit (1957-1959) and Colombiere College in Michigan (1959-1963). Colombiere College became the Colombiere Center, where Fr. Smith resided for the final six years of his life.
A tall, white-haired gentleman with a gentle demeanor and a dignified presence, Fr. Smith was an upbeat, enthusiastic, and passionate professor. I first met him at 18, when I walked into his Shakespeare class as a freshman at Carroll. Quickly, I gained respect for his vast amount of knowledge, wit, and tough quizzes, which were really exams. With a twinkle in his eye, one couldn’t help catch his exuberance for literature. His classes required much time and effort, but he pushed his students to rise to his high expectations. Often, I’d joke I was majoring in “Smith” rather than English because his name was always on my class list. It wasn’t the funniest joke, but Fr. Smith would laugh each time I said it.
Becoming a mentor and a friend, Fr. Smith changed my course in life. I was inspired to change majors and became an English teacher. He was someone to whom I could discuss anything – faith, literature, travel, politics, movies. After I graduated from Carroll, we continued our friendship, speaking regularly on the phone when we didn’t live in the same state and visiting when we could. The last time I saw him was in 2010 when he visited me at my in-laws home in Ohio. My mother-in-law cooked us a delicious meal; Fr. Smith met my daughter; and I surprised him with white chocolate for desert. We had a wonderful evening catching up. He was like one of the family.
Fr. Smith presided at my wedding and baptized my son. In 2008, my family drove to Clarkston to visit him. The pace was slower at Colombiere than it was on campus, and sometimes I worried this brought him down; but he accepted and appreciated what he had and always loved hearing any news from JCU. At one point, he said there wasn’t a day that passed when he didn’t think about John Carroll University. How could he not? JCU was his home.
Fr. Smith had very dear friends from JCU and the Cleveland area, as well as family in Avon Lake, Ohio. He cherished those relationships, as well as those with students who had moved away and with whom he still kept in contact. It’s difficult to encapsulate the type of man he was in a few words. Nonetheless, he was the best and holiest of men, and I’m so glad I knew him. Even though we were years apart in age, we were alike in many ways and always enjoyed our time together, whether it was eating out, talking about poetry, or sharing a laugh. I miss talking to him, yet I’m comforted by the fact he had many friends and family members waiting for him at the gates of heaven, and that he lived an exciting and holy life. I’m sure the Lord was overjoyed to see him, welcoming him into His house. But I still miss him. Fr. Smith enhanced my life with his friendship, and I’m lucky to have known him and learned so much from him.
To the many JCU graduates who’ve also shared a classroom with Fr. Smith, I’m sure you can say the same.
– Mary Jo Marcellus Wyse ’98