By Diana Colson
Born in Boston in 1954, Fr. Smith grew up in a town called Milton, a suburb of Boston. (It was also the home town of the first George Bush.)
Leo Smith attended Catholic Schools during his elementary and high school years, and then graduated from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where he majored in History. From there he went to the University Of Notre Dame, where he received a Master’s Degree in Medieval History.
His original plan was to enter the PhD program and teach University level courses. However, the Vietnam War ended, and his career prospects changed. (At that time, many young men were attending University simply to avoid the draft. As the draft threat dissipated, they left school in droves. With the resulting drop in enrollment, teaching Medieval History at a university was no longer a career possibility.)
Young Leo Smith now returned to Washington, D.C., and went to work for the Department of Defense. He was to stay on that job for 25 years. All of the positions he held related to national security, jobs that dealt with the measurement of human reliability and trustworthiness, security clearances, and the like. His last job was at the Pentagon.
As September 11, 2001, approached, the Pentagon was under renovation. The pie-shaped layout of the Pentagon had been divided into 5 “slices”, and reconstruction on first wedge had just been completed. 5000 people had been temporarily removed from that first wedge, and had been reassigned to nearby locations, among them Leo Smith. “We were just getting ready to move back in when the plane hit. It was the only part of building that was capable of withstanding the force of an airplane. After 9/11 they had to rebuild. I ended up never going back. It was not because of 9/11. It was because at the very same time that happened, I was discerning my calling to become a priest.
“I had been very fortunate. I was happy with my life before I became a priest. I loved my job, my home, and my friends. I was 48 and living in Fairfax, Virginia. Now I found myself spending time discerning what God was calling me to do.
“I tried bargaining with God by doing good works—Big Brothers, the Aids Ministry, working with the Blind—but these were not enough,” says Fr. Smith. At the time, he lived in the diocese of Arlington and was considered too old to be sponsored by that diocese, 35 being the maximum age they would consider. Now 48, Leo Smith applied to the diocese of Venice. His sister lived in Bradenton, and he had been coming to visit her every year for a week or ten days.
“To be accepted to study for the priesthood, you have to fill out a lengthy written application,” explains Fr. Smith. “You have to get references from friends and employers. You have to get a reference from your priest and be interviewed by the Vocations Director of the diocese. You are interviewed by men and women in the diocese, and then interviewed by the Bishop. You also have to undergo psychological testing.
“I went through the whole process with the diocese of Venice, and they accepted me. The Vocational Director said I needed to attend a seminary. He sent me to interview at Christ the King in East Aurora, NY, near Buffalo. It was the summer of 2002. I felt so good about the seminary interview that I drove back to Washington, listed my house on Monday and by Thursday I had competing bids, one of which was $10,000 more than my price. I sold everything I owned except my bike, my clothes, and my car—a Subaru Station Wagon which I am still driving. I suddenly went from living in a 2000 square foot house filled with stuff to living for four years in a seminary.”
Fr. Leo Smith graduated from the seminary in October of 2006, and was ordained a priest at the Cathedral in Venice, Florida.
Now 52, Fr. Smith was assigned to St. Charles Borromeo church in Port Charlotte. He served there for five years until the Bishop transferred him to Church of the Incarnation in Sarasota, where he served for two more years before being transferred to St. Francis Xavier in Ft. Myers. Finally, on August 1, 2014, Fr. Smith was sent to St. Michael’s Church on Siesta Key, where he will serve until the Bishop chooses to send him elsewhere.
Today, Fr. Smith is the Associate Pastor at St. Michaels. He visits homebound parishioners, helps people prepare for marriage, and also arranges funerals. “I love being an Associate. I don’t have to worry about paying the electric bill. I don’t get blamed for anything. I get to just be a priest. A lot of people have said to me, ‘How different the church must be from life at the Pentagon.’ I tell them I’ve just gone from the world’s largest bureaucracy to the world’s oldest.
“Now that I am a priest, I’m filled with joy. I love being a priest. I really do. People constantly say to me: ‘Thank you for everything you gave up to become a priest.’ And I tell them I haven’t given up anything: I’ve gained.”
St. Michael the Archangel Parish was dedicated on January 10, 1960. It is part of the Diocese of Venice, and Msgr. Joseph Stearns is the pastor. St. Michael’s is located at 5394 Midnight Pass Road, Sarasota, FL 34242. Phone: 941.349.4174. hhttp://www.stmichaelssiesta.com