Bishop-elect Peter Smith
Bishop-elect Peter Smith

Pope Francis this week appointed Father Peter Smith auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Portland. 

In addition to his new bishop responsibilities, the 55-year-old Portland priest will continue as archdiocesan vicar general and moderator of the curia, essentially a chief of staff job in any other organization. His ordination as bishop is planned for April 29.

Bishop-elect Smith will be the second in command of the sprawling Western Oregon archdiocese under Archbishop Alexander Sample.

“I am grateful and humbled by the confidence the Holy Father has shown in giving me this appointment.," said Bishop-elect Smith. "Please keep me in your prayers as being a bishop can be challenging as well as an opportunity to grow and to serve the faithful. God is full of surprises.”

“This is news of great joy for the local Church here in the Archdiocese of Portland," said Archbishop  Sample. "Bishop-elect Smith has been a trusted and invaluable co-worker with me ever since I appointed him vicar general early into my time here as the new archbishop. He is a man of deep faith, great intellect and practical wisdom. He is also well respected by the clergy, Religious and faithful of Western Oregon. I look forward to having him by my side as an Auxiliary Bishop to assist me in caring for the Lord’s flock in this historic Archdiocese.  I am grateful to Bishop-elect Smith for accepting Pope Francis’ call to be a bishop. He will have my prayers, friendship and support.”

The Bishop-elect was born in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. After high school, he served in the South African Army, where he spent time as a rifleman in the bush along Namibia’s northern border with Angola, where Soviet and Cuban-backed insurgents of the Namibian independence-seeking South West Africa People’s Organization operated out of sanctuaries in Angola provided by the leftist Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola.

His unit operated in the flat savannah, bush-covered desert, setting up ambushes or overturning ambushes sprung on them, in so called “shoot and scoot” small-unit skirmishes.
 
After military service, he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree of commerce in business administration and marketing 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, Indiana, where he visited one of the lay communities that had developed from the Catholic Charismatic Renewal; the Brotherhood of the People of Praise. 

After a year, he went on retreat with men from the Brotherhood, and then moved in with them. He has lived with them for more than 25 years since then.

He currently lives in community with three Brotherhood colleagues 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-elect 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."

The Brotherhood moved to Portland, from Indiana after several members expressed an openness to the priesthood. Then-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, Father Smith earned a master’s degree in theology in 2000 and a Master of Divinity degree in 2001, both from Mount Angel Seminary.

The South Africa-born bishop-elect was ordained in June, 2001 at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Portland.

He earned a canon law degree at Catholic University and served three years as parochial vicar at Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Lake Oswego.

He served as pastor at St. Rose of Lima Parish in Portland before he was asked by the archbishop to be his number two at the archdiocesan pastoral center on East Burnside Avenue.

"When I look back on my life and where I am now as a priest, I never would have thought anything like this could have happened to me," said Bishop-elect Smith. "But as scripture says, with the Lord nothing is impossible.  And when we open our lives to his transforming presence and power, He may lead us places and have us do things we never dreamed off."

“I was amazed, and delighted for him, for the People of Praise and for his building the ministry in the Church; I am sure he’ll be a good bishop,” said Joicelyn Smith, mother of Bishop-elect Smith, in a call from her home in South Africa. “He always says that the ‘joy of the Lord is his strength’ and I am sure that is true.”

Mrs. Smith is planning to attend the ordination in April, and believes Peter's sister, who lives in San Francisco, will also be attending.