May 13, 2016
This Pentecost Sunday, May 15, 2016, St. John XXIII University Parish at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville will celebrate Dr. Ruth Queen Smith, who is retiring after 25 years of ministry.
A native of Nashville, TN, Dr. Smith earned her doctorate in education (specifically in adult learning) in 2007 from UT-Knoxville. Prior to that, she worked as a photojournalist.
For many years, she was a speaker at gatherings on faith-based topics. (Click here to hear Dr. Smith give a talk on the prayer method “lectio divina.”)
Paulist Fr. Eric Andrews, president of the Paulist Fathers, worked alongside of Dr. Smith for many years, both as a seminarian and as director of then-Blessed John XXIII University Parish. His video tribute to her:
Paulist Fr. Rich Andre, associate pastor of St. John XXIII, has penned these words about Dr. Smith in his homily for this Sunday:
” … In 1961, at the age of 8, the Holy Spirit called Ruth Queen Smith to be an evangelist. Seriously. The Spirit said to her, ‘You will be an evangelist.’ What’s remarkable is that Ruth didn’t learn what the word ‘evangelist’ meant until a year later, when her mother witnessed her talking with a guest at their house about the gospel. But it wasn’t always easy for Ruth to be an evangelist. As an adult, she offered to lead a Bible study at her parish in Nashville. She came to the church one evening a week for years, ready to lead a Bible study … but no one came for the first 18 months. That’s hard to believe, for a woman who until recently led at least eight dynamic Bible studies a week, at at least three different parishes, often to huge groups. For countless people over the decades, she has breathed the Spirit into the Bible!
“Ruth has also challenged us that we have the gifts to be evangelists, too. All you have to be able to do, she says, is to tell your story. You are the expert on your story. When you tell people about your life, no one is ever going to say that you’re telling it wrong!
“Like everyone, Ruth’s journey has taken many twists and turns along the way. As she began to lose her sight and faced the reality of several other medical conditions, I can imagine that most other people – even people of great faith – would be overcome by despair. But Ruth found ways forward. Back in 1991, in the first week that she lived in Knoxville to pursue an advanced degree, she asked Stan MacNevin, the pastor of John XXIII, how she best could share her gifts. And Stan – who had only been at John XXIII for a week or two himself, encouraged her to lead a Bible study. And that was the beginning of a 25-year love affair between Ruth Queen Smith and the Catholic community of East Tennessee.
“There are many gifts from the one same Spirit. Ruth is just one small part of the Body of Christ, but she has blessed so many people in so many different ways. I don’t think it is that the Spirit has given her more gifts than others. I think she has simply been willing to make the maximum use of the gifts she’s been given!
“This may be very egotistical of me, but of all the people who have been by blessed by Ruth, I think I am among the luckiest. Almost every time Ruth has crossed the minefield of papers on my office floor to sit and talk with me, tears have welled up in my eyes. As a woman devoted to the spirituality of Isaac Hecker and the Paulist Fathers, Ruth has prayed for me every day for decades, even before the Holy Spirit invited me to consider being a Paulist priest. I am so honored that she traveled to New York to proclaim the first reading at my priesthood ordination. That passage was Isaiah declaring, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” I have taken six classes on Scripture and three classes on preaching, but the person who has most helped the Scriptures come alive for me is Dr. Ruth Queen Smith. The woman who is blind has done the most to help me see! … “