Catholic Courier

Posted: August 2, 2010

Last Updated: November 24, 2010

Father Robert S. Smith, 78; Cornell chaplain

Father Robert S. Smith, a Catholic chaplain at Cornell University since 2002, died July 27, 2010, at Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pa. He was 78.

Father Smith was born in 1932 in New York City. He attended St. Francis Prep and Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception in his native Queens and Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, Long Island. He was ordained in 1958 as a priest of the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

After ordination Father Smith completed graduate studies at the University of Louvain in Belgium before becoming associate pastor at St. Lawrence Martyr Parish in Sayville in 1961. Later that year he joined the faculty at Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, where he taught philosophy. In 1970 he became director of the Newman Apostolate in Brentwood, and in 1971 he became chaplain at Hofstra University.

In 1975 Father Smith became director of campus ministries and chaplaincy services at University Medical Center at Stony Brook University. In 1997, after 22 years at Stony Brook, he became director of The Sophia Center, an interfaith project based in Huntington.

In 2002 Father Smith moved to Ithaca, where he began serving at Cornell. His eight-year tenure saw him serve for two years as Cornell Catholic Community’s interim director (2003-05) and establish ministries and programs involving theology, philosophy and ecumenism. He also founded a Taize prayer group and a peer-ministry program.

"And he didn’t begin at Cornell until he was 70," remarked Sister Donna Fannon, MHSH, a Cornell campus minister who retired in June 2010 after 16 years.

"He loved being a priest, and he loved all aspects of campus life," Sister Fannon added. "He could be seen at a variety of sporting events, concerts, lectures and plays."

Father Daniel McMullin, director of Cornell Catholic Community, added in a column posted on the community's website that Father Smith often described his last assignment as "a cherished gift" at that stage of his life.

Father Smith's funeral Mass was held July 31 at St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre. Interment was at Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury.

A memorial Mass will be held at Cornell's Sage Chapel on Sunday, Sept. 19, at 10:30 a.m., followed by a service with selected speakers.

Contains reporting by Mike Latona.


Oliver Hull
Father Bob, as I knew him, was a huge part of my life. I was an alter boy at masses said by Fr. Bob at Our Lady Star of the Sea in Saltaire, NY in the late 1960's, and attended masses he held at Stony Brook when I was a student at SUNY @ Stony Brook. My wife and I went through Pre-Cana with Bob 21 years ago, and I last saw Bob at the Seminary in Lloyd Neck 8-9 years ago. I will miss him and his ministries dearly.
September 13, 2010, 8:31 AM
Jane Redmont
Bob Smith was a wonderful priest. He was a mentor and friend and the first person to hire me in ministry. I worked with him in 1976-77 as Assistant Catholic Chaplain at SUNY-Stony Brook before moving to Madison, Wisconsin, where I spent several years as Chaplain at St. Paul's University Catholic Center. A small correction: While Bob did indeed begin his campus ministry work at Stony Brook in the mid-1970s, he did not become Chaplain to the Medical Center till later, after leaving the general campus ministry position. May Bob rest in peace and rise in glory. I was sad to hear of his death -- I sensed it somehow over the summer but we had been out of touch for several years and I just heard the news from a mutual acquaintance.
September 23, 2010, 5:58 PM
Brian Ruskin
I am currently visiting Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, where Fr. Bob Smith shared his wise perspectives and devoted spiritualism for the past eight years. Whata shock to learn that he had passed waway over the summer. During my time as a graduate student at Cornell (2001-2006), Fr. Bob and I became friends through the Cornell Catholic Community and since graduating, I made it a point to visit with him whenever I returned to campus. A year ago, Fr. Bob very kindly agreed to travel 4+ hrs to Long Island to perform my wife and my wedding Mass. A year ago, he had been experiencing pain in his legs. Tragically, that pain turned out to be cancer-related. On the one year anniversary of our marriage sacrament, i found out that he had passed away. Fr. Bob was a blessing in the lives of whomever he met. His breadth of experience and acceptance of whatever happened in his life was truly an inspiration to all that had the fortune to hear him speak. I benefitted greatly from his counsel and friendship over the years. Rest with God, Fr. Bob.
September 28, 2010, 6:21 PM
Geoffrey Oconnell
I worked with bob smith at stony brook hospital in the 1980's. We placed young seminarians together for hospital ministry. He was brilliant and humble.
November 25, 2010, 11:49 PM
Michael Elliott
My father worked at Stony Brook Hopsital with Father Smith. He was a frequent guest at our home and I have many fond memories of him sitting at our dinner table talking, listening and laughing. Father Smith would always bring me and my sister into the adult conversation. He made us feel very special. His goodness permeated everything he did. I am blessed to have known him.
August 12, 2011, 5:33 PM
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