Newly ordained, Gesu alum Fr. Zachary Smith to set off for new mission in Japan

Fr. Zachary Smith, SVD, blesses a student at Gesu Catholic School in Detroit on Friday, May 31, during an all-school Mass. Initially from Oak Park, Fr. Smith said he was not Catholic when he attended Gesu from 1997 to 2006. He eventually joined the RCIA and became Catholic in 2009, when he was 16. He was ordained a priest for the Society of the Divine Word in Chicago on May 25, and will be leaving in July for his mission assignment in Japan. (Photos by Gabriella Patti | Detroit Catholic)

32-year-old Oak Park native ordained a priest for the Society of the Divine Word on May 25, returns to alma mater for Mass

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DETROIT — Nearly 20 years after graduating from Gesu Catholic School on the city’s west side, the newly ordained Fr. Zachary Smith, SVD, returned to the parish and school to celebrate Mass on Friday, May 31, and Sunday, June 2.

Fr. Smith, 32, was ordained a priest of the Society of the Divine Word on Saturday, May 25, at the Church of the Holy Family in Chicago. In July, he will leave for a three-year assignment in Japan. But before he sets off across the globe, Fr. Smith stopped at his Jesuit-run alma mater for a school Mass on Friday and a youth Mass on Sunday, where everyone from the servers to the lectors were children.

Initially from Oak Park, Fr. Smith said he was not Catholic when he attended Gesu from 1997 to 2006. He eventually joined the RCIA and became Catholic in 2009, when he was 16.

“(Catholicism) is what I knew because I was in Catholic school, and this is what made sense to me, so it was the natural pull,” Fr. Smith told Detroit Catholic following the school Mass.

In July, Fr. Smith will leave for a three-year assignment in Japan, where he served while in formation for the Society of the Divine Word.
In July, Fr. Smith will leave for a three-year assignment in Japan, where he served while in formation for the Society of the Divine Word.

However, even before becoming Catholic, Fr. Smith said people would tease him or encourage him to consider the priesthood.

“People joked, but I wasn’t Catholic at the time — even my uncle, who is also not religious, had said something like that: 'You’d make a good priest or a lawyer.' By high school, more teachers and priests would say it,” Fr. Smith said.

After graduating from University of Detroit Jesuit High School, Fr. Smith began college as a pre-med student. During this time, he began to discern the priesthood seriously and question whether medicine was the right path for him.

“Pre-med was very competitive, and I asked myself why I wanted to do this, and I thought, ‘Well, I want to do this to help people,’” Fr. Smith said.

Fr. Smith realized he could achieve this outside of the cutthroat medical environment and began considering the priesthood. He says that the Society of the Divine Word found him.

“In college, I thought to join the Jesuits, and I contacted the vocation director, and he never responded,” Fr. Smith said. “I gave it some time, and he still wasn’t responding, so then I went to a couple of monasteries, and I liked those. Randomly, an SVD contacted me and said ‘Hey, I heard you are discerning a vocation. Is it OK if I come to visit you?’”

A year later, Fr. Smith heard back from the Jesuits, but by then, he was deep into his discernment to join the Society of the Divine Word.

Fr. Lorn Snow, SJ, pastor at Gesu, celebrates Mass alongside Fr. Smith on May 31. After attending Gesu Catholic School as a child, Fr. Smith attended and graduated from University of Detroit Jesuit High School before eventually discerning the priesthood.
Fr. Lorn Snow, SJ, pastor at Gesu, celebrates Mass alongside Fr. Smith on May 31. After attending Gesu Catholic School as a child, Fr. Smith attended and graduated from University of Detroit Jesuit High School before eventually discerning the priesthood.

Fr. Smith looks back at his time at Gesu as a formative time in cultivating his call to the priesthood, specifically his call to missionary life.

“I think Gesu prepared the soil because I think (my time at) Gesu is why I joined a missionary community,” Fr. Smith explained. “Here, the community is so open and welcoming and embraces everyone, and we don’t really care who you are or where you are from. We are just happy to have you here. In general, I feel like people are formed here to be loving, accepting people.”

During his years in formation, Fr. Smith served in Japan and learned the language. Now, when he returns, he says he will be there for at least three years, but likely much longer. This type of missionary work helps one to see the world and the faith through someone else’s eyes, he added.

“(Missionary work) allows you to meet people who are different and be able to see the world differently,” Fr. Smith said. “You realize, ‘Well, you see the world differently. Maybe I can try to see it through your perspective, and if I do that, how are things?’”

As a piece of parting advice to the new generation of Gesu students, Fr. Smith encouraged them to listen to what their “inner voice” is telling them to do.

“In my case, the outer voice was saying, 'Be a doctor,' but the inner voice was saying, 'No,'” Fr. Smith said. ”I tried to only listen to that outer voice, and I probably could have become a doctor, but I didn’t feel at peace with that. Listening to what was stirring inside of me gave me peace.”



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