LAKEWOOD RANCH — No moment is ordinary for Fr. Dan Smith.
“Always look for the extraordinary in the ordinary,” said Smith, who started as Our Lady of the Angel Catholic Community’s new priest March 1. “Every breath is a gift.”
The message is one Smith remembers on a daily basis — and also one he was sure to tell parishioners on his first day of preaching. The night before his first service, he taped the reminder under every chair in the sanctuary so members of the congregation would be able to look for it.
“He really wants to teach people the faith,” said Regina Pena, one of Smith’s parishioners from St. John the Evangelical in Naples, where Smith served until Feb. 27. “He was really in to faith enrichment at our parish and getting that off the ground.
“We just loved him,” she said. “He will really try to put a personal touch in this church. He says it like he sees it.”
Smith was ordained as a priest in October 1999 after a six-year process. The longtime accountant never thought he would become a priest but considered the vocation after he asked the priest at St. Martha Catholic Church, where he was attending, for a letter of recommendation to go to law school. The priest had another idea for Smith’s future.
“He said, ‘Come back in 30 days (and tell me what you think about going to seminary),’” Smith said.
Just a few months before, Smith’s own mother had asked him to consider becoming a priest, as well. And the coincidence left Smith wondering what his next step should be.
“I decided to go to seminary and give it a shot for two years and tell God I tried,” Smith said. “I didn’t want to wonder, ‘What if?’ I got in and never left.
“You don’t go to seminary to be a priest,” he said. “You go in to discern if God is calling you into the priesthood.”
Smith said he was convinced he would go to law school until one day he was sitting in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
“You always think God is going to be the big burning bush like with Moses, but it’s usually the opposite,” Smith said. “For me, it got pitch black. I felt God snuggling me. I knew He (was) going to be right there with me.”
From then on, Smith knew the priesthood would be in his future.
At Our Lady, one of Smith’s main missions will be to restore inactive Catholics to the church.
“That’s what I want to concentrate on,” Smith said. “Come home. It’s fun and exciting.”
As a child, Smith remembers the church in his small hometown in rural Indiana as the hub of family life — the one place that literally lit up the black skyline as he and his family drove over the rolling hills toward it.
“That’s what I want to do,” Smith said. “(We are called) to be the light of Christ.”
Smith and the team at Our Lady already are busy making preliminary changes to aid the church as it moves forward. For example, church bulletins will take on a more magazine-style look, the facility will get wireless Internet, and the church’s website will be improved and updated.
Smith said he plans to get an outdoor projector so Our Lady of the Angels can host a family drive-in movie on campus.
“I just see something going on here all the time,” Smith said. “I would love to build a park for the kids to play, possibly on this campus.”
Our Lady of the Angels now is offering Mass at 8 a.m., Monday through Saturday. Weekend Masses will remain the same at 4 p.m., Saturdays, and 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., Sundays.
Smith replaces Fr. Damian Amathia, TOR, who celebrated his last Mass at Our Lady on Feb. 20.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].