Father Thomas Smithson’s vocational story is filled with surprising twists and turns, all of which eventually led him to the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament and to the priesthood. Check out the video or read his story below
Tom, a native of Albuquerque, New Mexico, is the youngest of three brothers. His mother Josephine was from North Dakota and was a mixture of Chippewa and French stock. Tom’s dad Leslie hailed from an Illinois farm family of English descent. He owned several stores which sold Native American curios – pottery, jewelry, and rugs. Later, when illness forced Leslie to close his last store, Josephine opened her own store where she made Southwestern fiesta dresses.
Father Tom attended both Catholic and public schools in Albuquerque. Following graduation from high school, he joined the Air Force and worked in hospital administration. His tour of duty took him to Travis Air Force Base near San Francisco, Yokota, Japan, outside Tokyo, and briefly to Suwon, Korea. While in Japan, he also worked as a bartender and tutored Japanese businessmen in conversational English.
After time in the service, Tom interviewed for a job with the Albuquerque Publishing Company which published the city’s two daily newspapers. Thus he began working in newspaper advertising, a job he really enjoyed. Eventually Tom would work his way up in the company to manage the national advertising department. He was active in the New Mexico Advertising Federation, serving on its Board of Directors and later as its President. Tom always assumed he would retire at the newspaper, but after living life in the “fast lane” and traveling to many cities nationwide, he says, “I began to think that there was something more to life.” Tom spent his final four years at the newspaper discerning a new career.
In 1993, Tom resigned his job to join the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament. Even though the thought of undertaking college studies did not appeal to him, he started undergraduate studies during his initial formation process in New York City. After his novitiate year in Australia with other members of the Congregation, Tom attended the Congregation’s theologate, Catholic Theological Union in Chicago where he was awarded a Master of Divinity degree from the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
Looking back on his journey, Father Tom says “People often ask me how I came to make the decision to join a Catholic religious order. Well, never in most of my 45 years – yes, that’s correct … I was 45 years old when I joined the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament – had I thought it possible. It wasn’t on a whim that I joined. A series of events was instrumental in my hearing this call to religious life.”
He continues: “During twenty years of working in newspaper advertising, and to some extent living a worldly and materialistic type of lifestyle, my relationship with God received very little attention. I went to church on Sunday; however, I was a nominal Catholic – the last one in the church and the first one out the door. I was going through the motions. Eventually, though, my relationship with God reached a turning point.”
“Three moments stand out in my life. The first was when I was returning from a party, one of many I attended. I realized that I wasn’t having fun anymore. So I decided to withdraw from the party scene. The second moment was when I thought about wanting to do something more significant with my life. As much as I enjoyed my advertising career, I didn’t think it was going to fulfill that need. But I had no idea what I wanted to do. The third moment was when a co-worker, with whom I used to have frequent chats at the office, began to speak to me about Jesus. This was most uncharacteristic of her, as she also attended some of the same parties that I went to.”
“As Debi talked about her newfound relationship with God and her church involvement, I could see a glow of peacefulness and excitement come over her. After a few weeks of listening to her, I began to seriously think about my own relationship with God. I realized that the wonderful relationship I had with God as a child was missing. I didn’t know very much about God or about my Catholic faith. I was deceiving myself in thinking that I had a relationship with God. How can anyone have a relationship with someone if you don’t spend time with that person? Then I made the most important and sincere prayer of my entire life: ‘Lord, I don’t know you very well, teach me about yourself!’”
“A lot of things happened after that. I began to re-prioritize. Debi gave me a Bible (I couldn’t find one at home). It took me awhile – about three months – but once I opened it I couldn’t put it down. I was also drawn to read more about the Catholic faith. Gradually, I became more active in my own parish and came to meet and enjoy the friendship of many of the parishioners. My interests shifted from the things I used to do, to spending more time in church activities and helping out wherever I could.”
“I also began to pray in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. God and I have had many wonderful conversations, and God has shown me how valuable and loved I am in his eyes. Sometimes we can be very hard on ourselves when we don’t measure up to our ideals.”
Some important events and people brought Father Tom to the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament. He received an unexpected
invitation to inquire about religious life and the priesthood – which came through a parish vocation program. That got him thinking. A meeting was scheduled with the Vocation Director of the Congregation. “I was made to feel that there was no pressure, and allowed the freedom to say I was not interested.” Because he hadn’t attended college, the invitation sat on the table for three years until Father Joseph Bernier SSS again pressed it. With Father Joe’s help, Tom undertook a year of serious vocational discernment. He read various books and talked to a lot of people in the Archdiocese and in other religious Congregations. It resulted in a commitment to pursue the dream of religious life and the priesthood.
“I have found peace and fulfillment in my life by getting involved. It has been like peeling off the mask and being myself for the first time in my life. This journey has been exciting and joyful, and it has also been the most challenging part of my life, even dangerous at times and sorrowful. But it has also been the best of times – meeting wonderful people, sharing and working on a variety of projects, and seeing the love and compassion of God in so many ways.”