Smith family photo
A 24-year-old Peter Smith shows his business degree.
Smith family photo
A 24-year-old Peter Smith shows his business degree.
Ordination to the Episcopate
Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith

2 p.m., April 29
St. Mary Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith was born Feb. 8, 1958 in an agricultural and manufacturing city of about half a million people inland from Durban, South Africa's largest seaport on the Indian Ocean.

The oldest of six children in an upper middle-class family, he grew up in the City of Pietermaritzburg. His father was an attorney and his mother an archivist.  

"Peter knows a lot about a lot of things," says his younger sister, Kathy Thornburg. "This was evident very early. He won the general knowledge prize at our primary school."

Thornburg, who lives in the San Francisco area, always knew her brother was a strategic thinker able to see the big picture.

"He used to spend hours and hours setting up and playing games around strategy and tactics," she says. "In fact, sometimes these would go on for days."

Thornburg says her big brother showed he is very fair at a young age. Once the brothers got mischievous and blew up a neighbor’s mailbox with a three-inch firecracker.

"They felt so bad the next day that they collected all their coin savings in a bag, and dropped it off with an anonymous apology note at the neighbor’s house," Thornburg says. "The neighbor did not find out who was responsible until decades later."

After high school, where he was top student, he served in the South African Army, where he spent time in the bush along Namibia’s northern border with Angola.

“There's nothing like the possibility of sudden death to help one focus on what's really important, " said the former infantryman who, at age 18, saw the opportunities of life before him and death an infinity away. “The experience really helped my self confidence, and it helped me grow."

The brutal reality of combat occurred quickly for the priest when two of his friends were killed and several others wounded. One of the KIAs was a mate who joined young Smith at Mass on Sundays when the unit was back at base camp. The two usually read the First and Second readings.

After required military service, he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree of commerce in business administration and marketing in 1981 from the University of Natal and a law degree from the University of Natal Law School in 1983.

After law school, he left South Africa to go to South Bend, Ind., where he visited one of the lay communities that had developed from the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, the People of Praise.

After a year, he went on retreat with men from the Brotherhood of the People of Praise, one part of the larger group, and then moved in with them. He served in South Bend and Minneapolis. He has lived with members of the private association of the faithful for more than 30 years.

He currently lives in community with three members of the Brotherhood of the People of Praise in North Portland and helps out at parishes on weekends.

"I am fortunate that I live with two other priests and a brother from my community," said Bishop Smith. "We pray together, have meals together, and share life in community. It’s a great blessing and support. Having a solid prayer life, individually and communally, and having good supportive relationships have strengthened my priestly life and ministry."

Bishop Smith dedicated himself to celibacy as a brother in his community for 13 years before he became a priest. He sacrificed family life to enhance his ministry to the People of God as a choice on its own, not just because it was a requirement for priests.

"There is a freedom. It's not better, just different," he says of celibacy. "If you embrace it as a gift in its own right and not just something you do so you can do something else, it is life-giving."  

The Brotherhood moved to Portland from Indiana after several members expressed an openness to the priesthood. Then-Portland Archbishop Francis George started the process to have the Brotherhood recognized canonically, and several of the group entered the seminary at Mount Angel.

At Mount Angel, Peter Smith earned a master’s degree in theology in 2000 and a Master of Divinity degree in 2001.

The South Africa-born prospective auxiliary bishop was ordained a priest on June 9, 2001 at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Portland by Archbishop John Vlazny.

The new priest's father, Patrick Smith, said that day that he kept thinking back to when his first-born son was a baby, and the couple offered him up to the Lord for his use. “That the Lord could hear that from a little puny dot on the earth – it’s awesome,” the father told the Catholic Sentinel.

After newly-ordained Father Smith served as parochial vicar at Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Lake Oswego (2001-'04), he studied at Catholic University (2004-'06), earning a degree in Canon Law. He served as pastor at St. Rose of Lima Parish in Portland from 2006 until he was asked in May 2013 by Archbishop Alexander Sample to be his number two at the archdiocesan pastoral center on East Burnside Avenue.

Bishop Smith served on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Priestly Life and Ministry committee from 2003-'08. In the Archdiocese of Portland, he has served in the Archdiocesan Tribunal as Defender of the Bond, Judge and Adjutant Judicial Vicar. He has served on the Presbyteral Council, the College of Consultors, Priest Personnel Board, Archdiocesan Permanent Diaconate Board, Archdiocesan Finance Committee, Building Commission and the Ministry Review Board. He has also served as the archdiocesan liaison to the Charismatic Renewal and as a board member of Central Catholic High School. He is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese and serves as Moderator of the Curia.

His interests are church history and military history.