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Priest Still Inspires Hastings After 35 Years

HASTINGS-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. – The Rev. James Smyth still speaks softly with his Irish accent after 55 years as a priest — 35 of those years at St. Matthew Parish in Hastings. Smyth, grand marshal of this year's Memorial Day parade in Hastings, said he hopes to re-energize local remembrances of veterans.

“It’s a great honor, it’s a great feeling,” Smyth said. “I hope it can bring back the sense of Memorial Day, especially for the young people. How can we forget? So many of them died so young.”

Hastings Mayor Peter Swiderski struggled to sum up Smyth’s importance to the village after nearly four decades as an active member of the community.

“Father Smyth is a solid, decent, gentleman who’s affected a lot of lives for the better,” Swiderski said. “The affection in the crowd for him, it sounds corny, but the affection comes from lives touched.”

Smyth grew up in Ireland in a family of eight boys and four girls. According to a biography given out by the Recreation Department, Smyth’s career began with an apprenticeship as a cooper and he practiced that trade for years in England and Ireland.

“After a great deal of serious thought and prayer, he entered the seminary of the Society of African Missions and was ordained in December 1956, at the age of 34,” the biography said.

Smyth worked as a pastor in the Dioceses of Jos in Nigeria from 1957 until 1971, when he was in a motorcycle accident and developed a case of malaria. He came to the United States to recuperate.

“In 1978, Smyth accepted a temporary assignment in St. Matthew Parish in Hastings-on-Hudson and in 1986 was incardinated as a priest in the Archdiocese of New York,” the biography said.

Getting to know the locals over the years is something that Smyth said was one of his favorite parts of being a pastor to this day.

“I’ve come to know so many people here,” he said. “That’s why I’m here; everything comes out of that.”

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