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John Smith, ninth bishop of the Diocese of Trenton, dies at 83

The Most Rev. John Mortimer Smith, the ninth bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Trenton, died Tuesday. He was 83.

Born June 23, 1935, in Orange, New Jersey to Mortimer and Ethel Smith, Smith was the oldest of three children. He attended St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark and John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio.  He entered Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University in South Orange in 1955, and was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark in 1961. A graduate of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., Smith obtained a doctorate in 1966. 

In the Archdiocese of Newark, Smith held several positions, including assistant chancellor, tribunal official, parish priest, director of the Cursillo Movement and dean of Bergen County.  In 1971, he was named a Monsignor by now-Pope St. Paul VI. 

In 1982, Smith was appointed to the faculty of the Pontifical North American College in Rome, where he served until his return to Newark in 1986.  He was appointed pastor of St. Mary Parish in Dumont, and later became the archdiocese’s vicar general.  In 1987 he was named auxiliary bishop of Newark. He was appointed bishop of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee in 1991.  He returned to New Jersey as coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Trenton in 1995, where he succeeded the late Bishop John Reiss In 1997.  He served as Bishop of Trenton for 13 years until his retirement at age 75 in 2010. 

His tenure as bishop was not without controversy. He oversaw the closing of several Catholic schools in the Trenton area, and said people with Celiac disease could not consume a rice wafer as a substitute for a wheat wafer at communion. He was also criticized by some for his handling of the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic church in 2002. But he was also considered a down-to-earth person with a good sense of humor who liked to tell jokes. He lived in the bishop’s house in Trenton during his tenure, and was the last bishop to do so.

Smith is survived by two brothers. His body will be received in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral in Trenton on Friday, Jan. 25 at 3 p.m. and will lie in repose until the celebration of the Mass of Jesus Christ the High Priest at 7 p.m.  A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated Saturday, Jan. 26 at 11 a.m. Smith will be entombed in the Mausoleum of St. Mary Cemetery in Trenton following the Mass. 

Written by
Krystal Knapp

Krystal has been a journalist in the Trenton area since 1999. A graduate of Smith College and Princeton Theological Seminary, she is from Detroit. She likes baseball, cats, jazz, ukulele, typewriters, chai, and good coffee. Follow her @planettrenton.

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Written by Krystal Knapp