Fr. Anthony Adds British Flavor to Monastery
April 30, 1992
Every so often in life we are blessed with characters who make part of everyday a bit more interesting. Fr. Anthony Smithwick fits this description perfectly.
Fr. Tony was born in Liverpool, England. He was the youngest of four boys, who were often referred to as the Beatles, since Liverpool is the birthplace of the Fab Poor. At the age of 17, Fr. Tony went to England to pursue his philosophy studies. “I was looking for a place to live and was referred to the Cockfosters Benedictine Monastery in North London and I never looked back,” Fr. Tony said. As a member of the Cockfosters Abbey, Fr. Tony was sent to Siena, Italy for two years and then France where he and two other priests were pastors for nine parishes in Sainte Genevieve Desbois.
Fr. Tony’s eight years as a pastor turned out to be a very rewarding, as well as challenging, experience. “Because there were three priests and 76,000 parishioners, lay people were encouraged to take charge in many aspects of the parish, which was healthy to see,” said Fr. Tony. As pastor, Fr. Tony was heavily involved in youth ministry and marriage preparation and counseling. “Marriage counseling is my passion,” he said. “It’s wonderful to see couples grow and express themselves.”
At the end of the eight years, Fr. Tony went back to London. “Basically, I was given a choice to either stay in France and become a diocesan priest, or go back to London. Community life is where my heart Is, so I went back home,” So home Fr. Tony went, but he came back cultured and fluent in French and Italian.
Fr. Tony describes his home monastery as “a very small monastery — ten members — which means that we are obliged to confront each other everyday, which is good. It brings us together. Our monastery is located above a parish in a multi-culture, multi-racial, and multi-denominational part of London, so our community is very extended.”
After being back in London for a few years, Fr. Tony’s abbot sent him to get a masters degree in Liturgy, so that he could teach. This was also a chance for them to explore other Benedictine monasteries. “I think they wanted to get rid of me,” Fr. Tony Joked. They were able to choose from either St. Anselmos in Rome or St. John’s. “I had already been to Italy and London is part of Europe, so we decided to go explore an American monastery. St John’s is well known in Europe, so the choice was easy,” he said.
So Fr. Tony went from one of the smallest monasteries to the largest. “At first it was a bit hard to integrate, but the monks hers were very receptive.” No doubt Fr. Tony’s humor and British wit made the transition easier.
Even though Fr. Tony is a visiting monk, he is encouraged to partake in community living. “Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am a visitor.” If not for Fr. Tony’s British accent and white monastic habit, it would be difficult to differentiate Fr. Tony from other monks.
In return, Fr. Tony has been very well received by the monks and the students. This was very apparent when he was assigned to replace the ailing Fr. Aidan McCall, OSB, as faculty resident on fourth Tommy in November. “That was an honor, and I have enjoyed every minute of it. It reminds me of my younger days. The students and I have developed a good relationship.”
In May, Fr. Tony will be going back to London after two years of studying. “London is a very vibrant city. I miss the pubs the theater, and Liverpool soccer,” said Fr. Tony. “At the same time I am really going to miss St John’s. Even though it was difficult to become a student again, I will miss the academic stimulus, the students, the interaction with the monks, the office prayers and the freedom I have here.” In return, we will miss the very funny, the very British, and the very unique character of Fr. Anthony Smithwick.