The Feast of Blessed James Stewart-Smith


August 11, 2021

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

If you love me, feed my sheep. Jesus commands Peter in the reading we just heard from the Gospel according to St. John. It’s a command that’s echoed down the centuries to all those who have accepted God’s call to be a pastor of his people. It is a command that was fully lived out in the life of Fr. James Stewart Smith, who we commemorate today for the first time.

          Fr. Stewart-Smith was born in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1851. He attended the University of Virginia, where he obtained a doctorate in homeopathic medicine. Discerning a call to the ordained ministry, he trained for ordination at Seabury and Nashotah House seminaries. He was ordained a deacon in 1875 and a priest one year later in 1876. After ordination, he held several positions before accepting the call to be the priest in charge of St. Mary’s, where he would spend the rest of his earthly life. After arriving in Kansas City in November of 1891, Fr. Stewart-Smith quickly settled in and got to work immediately. He was installed by the Bishop only two weeks later, taking up residence in the austere apartment above the parish hall.               His efforts to feed the sheep entrusted to his care included daily Mass even when no one was present, the institution of regular benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and times for private confession. He oversaw St. Mary’s mission congregation in the West Bottoms, bringing many souls to Christ, baptizing 30 people on one Sunday alone. In addition, he wrote several pamphlets to expound on the Catholic tradition of Anglicanism, among them a defense of prayers for the dead, an appeal to fast before communion, and a devotional prayer book for the people of the parish. His efforts to feed his flock didn’t just focus on their spiritual needs. He also cared for their physical and material needs. He established a medical practice where he put his training as a doctor to use, treating all those who came to him free of charge. Fr. Stewart-Smith also extended the parish’s works of mercy by establishing a mortuary chapel in the tower room where the city’s destitute would be brought for Christian burial.

 Unlike some of the other notable figures in the history of our parish who will remain unnamed, Fr. Stewart Smith was a quiet man who didn’t leave behind many legends. What we do know about him is that he was a many of many talents. In addition to being a priest and a doctor, he was a skilled businessman and an amateur Ironworker; among his creations are the Lenten Altar Cross and the baptismal font cover. He found strength for the tasks at hand in quiet prayer before the Altar where he served. In the words of another priest, he was “always glad to be of any service; unwilling to compromise the Church or the Bishop and a fountain of knowledge yet so unwilling to display it.”[1] He was the balance wheel of the clergy, a support to the Bishop and the most overworked priest in the diocese, who was the embodiment of charity and loving-kindness.

In the words of a leading citizen of Kansas City, Fr. Stewart-Smith lived a life “that was a labor of love…walking among the lowly, the poor, the distressed and the fallen as a ministering spirit to relieve comfort and to lift up.” [2]His dying day showed that that was true as he passed to larger life just minutes after he finished counseling someone grieving the loss of their loved one. When he died, he left behind not legends but countless lives touched by the love of God that worked through him. Strong men and women who had been brought to God by his saintly life whose testimony speaks to us down the generations.

Tonight by remembering Fr. James Stewart Smith at this Altar where he served for 23 years, we exercise the particular privilege entrusted to us by the general convention. As the community that knew and loved him and discerned the special grace of Christ at work in him, we establish his commemoration and lift him up as an example of holy living and selfless service for others to follow. We ask him, who we trust is in heaven, to pray for this parish that he loved, for us, his spiritual children, and for all pastors. So that aided by his prayers, they may be just as faithful in their care and nurture of God’s flock as he was enabling us all to grow ]into the full stature of Christ, which he achieved.

[1] L.A.C. Pitcathly, Tribute to Fr. Stewart Smith in the Kansas City Post August 12 1915.

[2] W.F. Kuhn, Tribute to Fr. Stewart Smith in in The Kansas City Free Masonry, August 21, 1915