Praise for a priest who helps at-risk children

by Letters to the editor

By Letters to the editorp. VOICE OF THE PEOPLE

Chicago — Recently, I had the privilege of attending the 157th commencement of the University of Notre Dame as the Laetare Medal was conferred on a remarkable man and a great priest, Rev. John P. Smyth, executive director of Maryville Academy in Des Plaines. As a fellow Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, I was filled with pride, as were his family, friends, members of his Notre Dame Class of 1957, and board members of Maryville, as Smyth became the 124th recipient of the oldest and most prestigious honor bestowed annually upon American Catholics.

Notre Dame’s president, Rev. Edward A. Malloy, stated that the university was particularly recognizing Smyth for “the exemplary manner in which he has served Christ in the children who are victims of neglect, prostitution, sexual abuse and family violence.”

Miles away, the results of his labors were evident. As Smyth was accepting the Laetare Medal, numerous children and young adults from Maryville were graduating from grade schools, high schools and three universities across Cook and Lake Counties because he believed in them and secured the resources for their education. Because of Smyth’s life commitment to them, these children, as thousands of others before them, now know the meaning of encouragement and achievement.

Smyth was born and raised in Chicago and graduated from DePaul Academy in 1953. While at Notre Dame, he was captain of the basketball team and an honorable mention All-American player. Despite his selection by the NBA’s St. Louis Hawks as a third-round draft choice, he decided to forgo a professional basketball career to pursue a vocation to the Catholic priesthood.

Smyth was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1962, and was assigned to Maryville Academy, a residence for orphaned and homeless children, which had been founded in 1883. He has worked there as a priest, teacher, coach, counselor, administrator, manager and fundraiser ever since. He was appointed Maryville’s executive director in 1970.

Maryville is now the largest child-care facility in the State of Illinois and one of the largest in the nation, annually serving, through its network of 22 campuses, more than 12,000 infants, children and youth who have been physically, sexually, or emotionally abused or neglected.

In my role as administrator of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, the social service arm of the archdiocese, I see continually the profound care and commitment that permeate Smyth’s work with the children, staff, board, volunteers and benefactors of Maryville. The constructive programs he has established, such as the Maryville Parenting-Teen Center, the Maryville Center for Medically Complex Children and the emergency shelter, treatment and foster care programs, illustrate his understanding of the profound needs of the infants, children and teens served by Maryville.

At 6 feet 6 inches, Smyth towers over most people, yet he can reach down to the tiniest child and reach out to the most rebellious teenager, or the most vulnerable victim of abuse, with compassion and care that will lead to healing.

Smyth didn’t want to be a star; he wanted to be a priest in service to people who need to see God’s healing presence in their lives. He found his calling serving the most vulnerable and at-risk children and teens in our society. Inspired by the leadership and example of Smyth and the staff of Maryville, these children can take their place in the world—sent forth with dignity, self-confidence and the tools to lead productive lives.

submitted by Rev. Michael M. Boland

June 4, 2002

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