Aug. 5, 2010

Rev. Robert S. Smith, Catholic chaplain at Cornell, dies

Remembering Father Bob

A Mass for Rev. Robert S. Smith will be celebrated Sept. 19 at 10:30 a.m. in Sage Chapel. A memorial service will be held at noon, followed by a reception in Willard Straight Hall.

The Rev. Robert S. Smith, the Robert R. Colbert Sr. '48 Catholic Chaplain and Distinguished Scholar at Cornell, died July 27 at Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pa., at age 78.

"Fr. Bob died very peacefully and in the care of health workers he respected and admired," wrote the Rev. Daniel McMullin, director of the Cornell Catholic Community, on the Cornell United Religious Work website. "True to his nature, Fr. Bob thought the effect of his most recent round of chemotherapy was just an inconvenience in the road through cancer back to the community at Cornell, which he often described as 'a cherished gift at this stage of my life.'"

Before coming to Cornell in 2002 in retirement, Smith served as a parish priest, as a professor of philosophy in the diocesan seminary of Rockville Centre, N.Y., and as a chaplain at Hofstra University and SUNY Stony Brook. There he helped develop a program using lectures, plays, music and art to expose medical students to what it means to be ill. His ideas were incorporated into Weill Cornell Medical College's Humanities in Medicine program.

"Father Bob Smith was one of the best exemplars of the integration of the life of the mind and the life of the spirit, of erudition and inspiration, that I have known. His work left a deep impression with the students he served -- to the degree that Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity made him an honorary member. He also left his impact on his colleagues in CURW and in the University at large, particularly with his successful Janus Essays project of 2008," said the Rev. Dr. Kenneth Clarke Sr., director of Cornell United Religious Work. "Father Bob will be deeply missed by all of us blessed to have been touched by him at Cornell during the last eight years."

To commemorate his 50th anniversary as an ordained Catholic priest on May 31, 2008, Smith created a competition, the Janus Essays, to invite Cornell students to submit an essay imagining the next 50 years in their lives from a societal or personal perspective.

In 2009 Smith was involved with the inaugural Colbert Symposium lecture series on the pluralism of religious belief. He participated in interfaith dinners with students and advised the Bioethics Society of Cornell's publication the Ivy Journal of Ethics. He was the author of "In the Image of God."

Smith's funeral and burial were held July 31. The Cornell Catholic Community will hold a memorial Mass early in the fall semester.