Father Smullen was always attentive to God’s children

Father Martin Joseph Smullen, a native of Ireland who served as a priest of the Archdiocese of New Orleans for more than 30 years, was remembered as someone who treated everyone in his midst as a precious child of God.

Father Smullen died March 11 at Chateau de Notre Dame. He was 61.

“People were the value in Martin’s life – God’s own children. That’s how I think Martin looked at everybody – as nothing less than children of God, worthy of love,” said Father Curtis Thomas, a retired archdiocesan priest and homilist at Father Smullen’s March 16 Funeral Mass at St. Mary Magdalen Church, where the late priest served as parochial vicar from 2006-10.

Father Thomas, whose friendship with Father Smullen spanned 30 years, said he would marvel at Father Smullen’s laser-like focus on wait staff whenever they were dining at a restaurant or at other venues involving those in the service industry.

“He never read the menu while (wait staff) were talking to him. He looked them in the eye. He engaged them. They weren’t just ‘the servers,’” Father Thomas said. “They were people – people deserving of respect, people with stories. (Even) going to the dry cleaners was a celebration, because there were people there that Martin wanted to know.”

Priestly help from Ireland

Born in Dublin on Oct. 29, 1953, Father Smullen earned a degree in philosophy at Dublin’s Holy Cross College and completed his priestly studies at St. Patrick’s in Carlow, Ireland.

Father Smullen was ordained in his hometown as a priest for the Archdiocese of New Orleans by Bishop Stanley J. Ott on June 5, 1982, becoming one of the nearly two dozen Irish-born priests who moved to New Orleans from the mid-1960s through the 1980s to adddress declining native vocations.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond, the main celebrant of the Funeral Mass, said he never once heard Father Smullen complain during his visits with the priest at Chateau de Notre Dame.

“He called (his declining health) a cross, but he never complained about the cross – he embraced it and he wore it and he united it to the sufferings of Christ himself,” Archbishop Aymond said. “That gives me – and perhaps all of us – an example.”

Father Smullen’s first priestly assignments were as an associate at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Kenner, St. Louise de Marillac in Arabi, Our Lady of Divine Providence in Metairie and St. Maria Goretti in New Orleans. He went on to serve as parochial vicar at two Metairie parishes – St. Philip Neri and St. Mary Magdalen – and as an administrator at St. Genevieve in Slidell. His pastorates were at St. Monica and St. Simon Peter in New Orleans, and at St. Peter in Reserve.

In addition to these pastoral assignments, Father Smullen served as chaplain at the Academy of the Holy Angels, Seton Academy, St. Simon Peter KC Council 9415 and the Bishop Greco KC Council Fourth Degree. He also was the archdiocesan coordinator for Irish vocations from 1985-87.

Loved being a priest

In the pre-liturgical Words of Remembrance, John Smestad Jr., the archdiocese’s longtime director of CYO/Youth and Young Adult Ministry (now executive director of Pastoral Planning and Ministries), said his friend Martin had a knack for “making the joy of Christ real and tangible” to everyone he encountered.

“He could connect with anyone – rich or poor; old or young; black or white,” Smestad said. “(His) wide and varied circle of fiends is a testament to that ability to connect.”

When declining health left Father Smullen without a parish assignment, Smestad observed how his friend “still wanted to be able to serve as a priest, breaking open the word of God and bringing sacraments to people.” So Smestad was delighted when Father Smullen took him up on offers to be a chaplain at Teens Encounter Christ (TEC) retreats and Camp Abbey. Despite his being a novice in those ministries, teenagers – whom Smestad notes are very adept at gauging another’s authenticity – immediately “embraced” Father Smullen.

But of special poignancy to Smestad are the many times Father Smullen would use his own crosses “to redeem others” –  by sharing stories about his own human frailties with family and friends. Smestad said Father Smullen’s sharing of his faith journey allowed Smestad to see someone “struggling in this cynical world,” while showing him that “there was redemption, too; that the Jesus who calls us to share in his death, also calls us to share in his resurrection.”     

Father Smullen was preceded in death by his parents, Joe and Maura Smullen. He is survived by his brothers, Tony and Bernard, their wives, nieces, nephews, grandnieces, grandnephews and cousins.

Burial was at St. Louis Cemetery No. 3.

Beth Donze can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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