Pope accepts Bishop John M. Smith’s resignation

TRENTON, NJ - Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the resignation of Bishop John M. Smith as head of the Diocese of Trenton, it was announced Dec. 1 in the Vatican.

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., who was named coadjutor bishop six months earlier by Pope Benedict, now succeeds to the diocesan see as the 10th Bishop of Trenton.

Bishop Smith, a native of Orange who was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Newark, had served as the ninth Bishop of Trenton since July 1, 1997.  He submitted his resignation June 23, 2010, his 75th birthday, in accordance with canon 401.1 of the Code of Canon Law. The resignation was to become effective upon the pope’s acceptance.

The diocesan family will commemorate the transition of pastoral governance from Bishop Smith to Bishop O’Connell during a 12:10 p.m. Mass Dec. 8 on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton. All are welcome.

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Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.

Born April 21, 1955, in Philadelphia and raised in Langhorne, Pa., Bishop O’Connell is one of four sons of Arthur J. and June O’Connell.  His mother, now 84, still resides in the Philadelphia area; his father passed away in 2005.

Appointed by the pope on June 4, 2010 as Coadjutor Bishop of Trenton, then-Father O’Connell was concluding his 12th and final year as president of The Catholic University of America, Washington, the national university of the Catholic Church in the United States. A priest of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission, also known as the Vincentians, Father O’Connell was ordained to the episcopacy July 30 by Bishop Smith in the presence of more than 1,000 loved ones and well wishers gathered in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton. Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark, and then-Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington (who has since been named a cardinal) served as co-ordaining bishops.

Bishop O’Connell responded to the Dec. 1 announcement in a message to the clergy, religious and laity of the diocese, referring to his new ministry as “an awesome responsibility that I accept with humility and gratitude.” He said of Bishop Smith: “I offer him our profound gratitude as well as our abiding love, prayer and support. So much good has been accomplished in our diocese thanks to his wisdom, strong leadership and steady hand over these years.”

Asking for the support of the clergy, religious and lay ministers in emulating his episcopal motto -- to serve and not to be served (Mark 10:45) -- and acknowledging that as a successor to the apostles, the “responsibility that now falls to me is a profound one,” Bishop O’Connell stated, “Although the future is uncertain and I know that it will bring unique and, at times, difficult challenges, I face it with faith ‘in him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).”

He cited three of his greatest concerns that he plans to address -- bringing Catholics back to Sunday Mass; bolstering Catholic education, especially in Catholic schools and religious education programs, and increasing vocations to the priesthood and religious life.  Bishop O’Connell wrote:  “Who will lead us into the future if no one hears and heeds God’s call?  And who can hear and heed God’s call if we make so much noise and offer so many excuses that his voice is lost in the process?”

In his 13 years leading the Diocese of Trenton, Bishop Smith is responsible for fostering numerous initiatives that have served the people of the diocese and beyond.  Among these are the establishment of the Bishop’s Annual Appeal; the award-winning teen talk show, Realfaith TV; the Institute for Lay Ecclesial Ministry, which has formed and commissioned nearly 100 men and women for service in the diocese; a strategic planning study for the diocese’s Catholic schools; a consultation process to ensure vibrant parish communities, and the diocesan pastoral plan, “Led By the Spirit.”

In his remarks to the diocesan community, Bishop Smith stated, “As I think of my years here my mind is flooded by a million memories of events and moments of grace that we have shared.  I pray that you have come to know, love and serve Jesus Christ more fully and come to appreciate the wonders of his Church more completely through my humble ministry.”

Bishop Smith concluded, saying, “The words of St. Augustine perhaps say best what is in my heart: ‘I am a bishop for you, but a Christian with you.’”

It is expected that the diocese’s new Bishop Emeritus will continue to live and minister in the diocese, while maintaining an office in the Pastoral Center in Lawrenceville. Bishop Smith will celebrate his 50th anniversary of priestly ministry this May.

Established in 1881, the Diocese of Trenton comprises Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean Counties with a Catholic population of 830,000. The diocese has 211 priests, 338 permanent deacons and 445 religious men and women serving in 111 parishes, 36 Catholic elementary schools and 8 high schools. More information can be found at www.dioceseoftrenton.org.