Fr. Roger J. Smith went home to the Lord Jesus peacefully on Oct. 26, 2022, in his home at Heritage House Assisted Living in Morton, Washington. Born in Detroit, Michigan on April 18, 1943, to his parents Madeline and Joy Smith, Fr. Smith was the first of three children, having two younger sisters, Linda and Vickie.
The family parish was Our Lady of Fatima in Michigan Center, and Fr. Smith would go on to be the first ordained priest raised in the parish. He attended St. Mary Catholic school and began “getting the call” as a young boy serving for his pastor Fr. Sylvester Fedewa. At the age of 14, with the encouragement of Fr. Fedewa and another influential priest, Fr. Donovan, he went to Holy Cross High School Seminary in South Bend, Indiana. Despite his parents being concerned with how young he was, he stuck it out for a few years, before returning home and finishing high school at Michigan Center High.
In 1963, his dad died, forcing him to quickly take on responsibilities for his mother and siblings. These were stressful and painful years for the family, but Fr. Smith clung to his faith and entered even more deeply into the mystery and call to be a priest.
He studied at St. Meinrad Seminary and obtained a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1968. Back home, his mother found new love and in 1972, as a transitional deacon, Fr. Smith witnessed the marriage between his mom and who would be his stepdad, Cliff Rapert. He was ordained in St. Mary Cathedral in Lansing, Michigan on July 21, 1973, by Bishop Alexander Zaleski.
One of his first assignments was as a chaplain at Traverse City State Hospital for people with mental disabilities while being associate pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Brighton, Michigan. While he enjoyed priestly ministry during these early years of priesthood, Father Smith grew restless about where and how he felt God calling him. He sought to study law, a subject he appreciated and felt could clarify for him these answers.
With permission of his bishop in Lansing, he took a leave of absence and was accepted into the University of Puget Sound Law School in Tacoma, Washington. Archbishop Hunthausen saw to it that he received priestly support and had him reside at St. Patrick Parish rectory in Seattle with pastor Fr. Joe Kramis. To make commuting to UPS easier, he moved into the St. John of the Woods Parish rectory in Tacoma, with Father Carl Hageman. He was hired as a legal writing instructor at UPS Law School after passing the bar exam and offered priest supply at local parishes. He received his juris doctor in 1978. All along the way, he kept discerning his place in the priesthood with his family, Bishop Povish in Lansing, and Archbishop Hunthausen and his staff. Being in the northwest, being so warmly welcomed by brother priests here and the wonderful people of God in the parishes, all positively impacted Fr. Smith, and in 1979 he began the petition to be excardinated from Lansing and incardinated with Seattle.
He was incardinated on July 1, 1983, and appointed by Archbishop Hunthausen to be pastor of Sacred Heart in Morton. Seeing his pastoral talent, intellect, and effectiveness for administration, he was given increased responsibility over the years. He was regional pastor in both Grays Harbor and Pacific counties as well as Lewis County, while continuing to keep his post in Morton until his senior status request was accepted in 2013. He was known for recognizing his own limits and therefore collaborating effectively with lay leaders and deacon couples. He was a man of his word, and rarely lost the resolve to finish what he started. He was an excellent teacher of scripture, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere and being down to earth. He was known for his prayerful and reverential style, kindness in the confessional and setting and meeting goals with his parish staff.
His experience with law accentuated his priesthood and made him an asset to the archdiocese. Although in a remote part of the diocese, Fr. Smith was both eager to engage in giving feedback to the chancery, and be one of its consultors, sitting on the priest pension and health board for more than six years in the 1990s. Being ahead of his time, he had a profound empathy for priests struggling with mental health and challenged Archbishop Murphy and the benefits office to expand coverage for licensed mental health providers as a part of priest wellness.
He loved to take retreats to the Pacific Ocean. He was an extremely avid reader from the time he could pronounce words. He read incessantly until his eyesight got too bad. He did the webpage of the church and browsed old bookstores all the time. He enjoyed photography and cooking, starting his own cookbooks and practicing gourmet meals.
Fr. Smith had a premonition to feed the hungry and started a food pantry. It started as one shelf and grew to many shelves and soon the whole room. Later, a church office was relocated across the parking lot and one room became the pantry and now the whole building is the foodbank. Fr. Smith’s original passion was to feed the children. No matter the family situation, he wanted to make sure children had food. As of July 1, 2022, there are currently over 300 households enrolled. One hundred thirty of those are under 18 and 250 are senior citizens. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let Your perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed, rest in peace.
He was preceded in death by his parents Joy and Madeline, and stepfather Cliff Rapert.
Fr. Smith is survived by his sisters Linda Allward and Vickie Bradley; brother-in-law Randy Bradley; stepbrothers Cliff Rapert and Mike Rapert; nieces and nephews Matthew, Andrew, Jennifer, Joy, Anne Marie and David; as well as three great nieces and one great nephew.
Condolences may be sent to his sister, Vickie Bradley, at 9521 Sulfin Road, Jerome, Michigan, 49249.
Donations in honor of Fr. Smith may be made to Pastor’s Pantry, P.O. Box 1341, Morton, Washington, 98356.
A vigil will be held at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022 at St. Yves Church, Harmony. Fr. Milhton Scarpetta will preside and Fr. Jacob Maurer will preach. A funeral mass will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022, at St. Yves Church, Harmony. Fr. Gary Zender will preside and Deacon Loren Lane will preach. A committal will follow in the St. Yves Cemetery, closing with a reception. Arrangements are under the care and direction of Brown Mortuary Service in Morton.