Most Reverend William Joseph Smith, D.D.
Born: January 2, 1897
Ordained: June 16, 1927
Appointed Bishop of Pembroke: May 19, 1945
Consecrated: July 25, 1945
Installed as Bishop of Pembroke: August 8, 1945
Retired: February 15, 1971
Died Bishop Emeritus of Pembroke: October 28, 1986
Bishop Smith was born in Greenfield Ontario, in the Diocese of Alexandria, January 2, 1987. It was a Scottish settlement in a rural area, and he received the solid rudiments of faith at an early age. After completion of his high school at Alexandria, he received his BA at the University of Ottawa. He worked for five years with a bank before resuming his studies. He entered the Grand Séminaire de Montréal, and after completion of four years of Theology, was ordained for the Diocese of Alexandria in 1927. After ordination, he held posts as assistant at St. Finian’s Cathedral, Alexandria, and secretary to Bishop Couturier. In the years 1932-35, he was a student at the Angelicum in Rome, receiving a doctorate in Canon Law. On his return from Rome, he became Chancellor of the Diocese of Alexandria and in 1940, he was appointed Rector of Saint Finnan’s Cathedral. Elevated to the rank of Monsignor on July 19, 1943, he also became pastor of St. Columba’s Parish, Cornwall in 1944. Monsignor Smith was named Bishop of Pembroke on May 19, 1945 and consecrated on July 25th in the Cathedral at Alexandria. On August 8th, his installation in Pembroke was presided over by Most Revered Alexandre Vachon, D.D., Metropolitan Archbishop of Ottawa.
Upon his arrival in Pembroke, many special building projects were undertaken. A fundraising drive initiated in 1949 for the Home for the Aged resulted in the conversion of the Old General Hospital to Marianhill. The Cathedral was renovated 1951-52, the new General Hospital (present-day Pembroke Regional Hospital), the (now former) St. Joseph’s Motherhouse built in 1953, two new elementary schools in Pembroke erected in 1954, and the Grey Sisters Motherhouse completed in 1956-60 (now the present-day Carefor across from the hospital). A new Catholic high school for girls was also erected in 1955 behind the convent of Mary Immaculate (present-day Wise Owl Daycare. The Lorrain School of Nursing (1960) completed as well, attests to his capable and energetic leadership. On the Québec side of the Diocese, particularly in the Pontiac County, Bishop Smith had the joy of blessing and officiating at the formal opening of many new elementary schools, one high school, and one French normal school during the period of 1948-60.
In Ontario, besides the establishment of a new parish in Pembroke, there has been phenomenal growth after World War II in the region from Pembroke to Stonecliffe. With the greater development of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories and the hydro dam, employment and population increased to bring about the building of new churches and parish centres.
Bishop Smith had the honour and joy of attending the Second Vatican Council with his secretary, Monsignor M.J. Barry, in 1962-65. After the Council, he implemented the changes and reforms gradually. Many churches were renovated to accommodate the New Liturgy, and beginnings of parish councils in most parishes heralded a new era in relations between pastor and laity. The diocesan offices were enlarged to provide a larger chancery office, an office for the Bishop, the office of the Lay Apostolate, the office of Religious Education. However, with the advancing age and new pressures of office, Bishop Smith asked for a coadjutor with right of succession in 1969. Bishop J.R. Windle, Auxiliary Bishop of Ottawa, returned to Pembroke for this purpose, to assist him in the day-to-day concerns of the post-Vatican II era. Bishop Smith retired as Bishop of Pembroke in February 1971. He remained in residence at the diocesan building for several years, helping Bishop Windle with the Confirmations. He relinquished his work in 1982 as more advancing years prohibited his activity, and moved to Marianhill.
On October 28, 1986, Bishop Smith died at the Pembroke General Hospital at the age of 89 years. His Funeral Mass was held at St. Columbkille Cathedral, October 31 with 15 bishops and 85 priests present at a concelebrated Mass. Bishop Windle was the principal celebrant and homilist. In his homily, Bishop Windle recounted his own happy memories of his predecessor. He paid tribute to the remarkable contribution Bishop Smith made to the Diocese of Pembroke during the 26 years he served as chief shepherd, and highlighted his love and concern for the faithful entrusted to his care. He noted that Bishop Smith has special affection for his priests and was devoted to the religious Sisters who worked with him for the welfare of the Diocese. During his retirement years, Bishop Smith retained his keen interest in people and enjoyed the occasions which brought them in contact with him.
The thing to remember is that no man can judge properly without standards or norms. He will be a law unto himself unless he has objective standards to go by. The law of God comes first, a basic norm of action which no man can flout without diminishing his Christian, his Catholic manhood.
– Bishop William J. Smith, June 16, 1973, Ontario State Convention, Knights of Columbus, Niagara Falls.