If you are over the age of fifty, you may remember a famous Oblate preacher, a great servant of Mary, who was fluent in French, but spoke with a slight foreign accent. Around 1945 he preached a “Month of Mary” that was very much appreciated in the parishes of Saint-Sauveur in Quebec, Saint-Pierre in Montreal as well as in the Cathedral of Saint-Jean. During a Novena in honor of the Assumption, at Cap-de-la Madeleine, he enthralled thousands of pilgrims with his unctuous phrases and his Marian anecdotes. You may have recognized Father Rodolphe Smit, OMI?
He was born in Holland, on October 2, 1892. He pursued his classical studies in Switzerland, and entered the Belgian Oblate Novitiate in 1911. After his perpetual vows, in 1915, he studied Theology in Rome. Ordained a priest in 1917, he was sent to Western Canada the following year. There, he began as professor at the Edmonton scholasticate, and later spent fifteen years ministering in the parishes of Saint-Albert and Saint-Joachim in Edmonton. In 1934 he became a member of the Franco-American Province of New England, in the United States, where he was a full time preacher of parish, priestly, and religious retreats. He traveled from East to West across the United States and Canada preaching week after week, and month after month, in French as well as in English, in German, as well as in Italian. Wherever he went, his enthusiasm was equal to the vividness of his preaching. He insisted mostly on devotion to the Blessed Virgin, in whom he had unwavering confidence. His long experience with the faithful and his countless travels provided him with a thousand reasons for displaying this trust in the One who is never invoked in vain.
A deadly accident
I still remember the beautiful Marian retreat that Father Smit preached to the Oblates, at Ville La Salle in 1944. At that time he shared with us an example of Mary’s evident protection , when he himself had been the astonished witness. One day, when he was traveling west by train in Montana. a wheel broke down on the coach. The train had to be delayed for a few hours of repair. They were at an isolated station, where the train rarely stopped, except on signal. Father Smit then took advantage of these moments of respite to go out and stretch his legs on the platform. All of a sudden, a car appeared. A man opened the door and cried out to the surprised clergyman: “Are you a Catholic priest? Then come with me. There was a terrible accident near here”. They hurried towards a nearby field where a few men were busy righting up a farm tractor that had just crushed a man under its weight.
A providential coincidence
Evidently, the poor victim was approaching of death, but he could still speak. “Are you a priest?” he breathed painfully. “Do you speak German? Please, hear my confession for the love of God”. Father Smit helped the dying man come to sorrow for his sins, and gave him absolution. To give him more confidence, the priest began to reflect: “ Isn’t this an extraordinary coincidence, my friend! How the train was immobilized at this remote place where, if I understood correctly, there is no priest within 50 miles. How come I was able to leave the train just at the right moment? How come I speak German?” Then, the man had just enough strength to respond in a thin voice that was barely perceptible: “Since I left my native Bavaria to come to this country, America, I prayed to Mary every night. I begged her to provide that at the moment of my death I could have at my side a priest who speaks my language.” He then started, in German, the beautiful prayer: “Remember, O sweet Virgin Mary, that never was it heard…” But he was unable to finish. The Mother of Mercy was already leading his soul to the Father.
André DORVAL, OMI