Each December, the editors of Our Sunday Visitor (OSV), an international Catholic publishing company, select an honor roll of Catholics who have made an impact for the good during the year. These “Catholics of the Year,” say the editors, “have made a profound difference in the Church and have been an inspiration to others in the Catholic community and beyond.”
For the year 2015, Sacred Heart faculty member Dr. Janet Smith has been honored by OSV as a Catholic of the Year. Dr. Smith merited the award by being the primary organizer of the “Welcoming and Accompanying Our Brothers and Sisters with Same-Sex Attraction” conference that was held in August.
“Welcoming and Accompanying” featured three days of workshops for clergy, Catholic ministry professionals, and laity on how to deal with pastoral issues concerning same sex attraction (SSA). Twenty-eight national and local presenters in fields such as Christian anthropology, psychology, and chastity education addressed a crowd of over four hundred attendees. Particularly important were the testimonies of those who experience SSA and who are committed to living as devout, chaste Catholics.
“Coming on the heels of the Obergefell decision,” says the profile on Dr. Smith on OSV’s website, “the conference was a timely opportunity to both affirm the Church’s teaching on homosexuality and, at the same time, open up avenues of dialogue.” (Obergefell v. Hodges is the U.S. Supreme Court case stating homosexual couples have a Constitutional right to marry.) The Archdiocese of Detroit, Courage International, and the Our Sunday Visitor Foundation were the primary sponsors of “Welcoming and Accompanying,” held at the Inn at St. John’s in Plymouth, Michigan.
Dr. Smith holds the Fr. Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart and is a three-term consultor to the Pontifical Council on the Family. She addressed the conference as did four other Sacred Heart faculty members. Dr. Edward Peters was one of those presenters. The holder of the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred Heart says the “Welcoming and Accompanying” conference was “a model of sound doctrine, pastoral sensitivity, and practical acumen.”
“It was crucial that the first major conference in this area strike the right tone, that it make effective, creative use of the teachings of Christ and the Church,” Dr. Peters explains. “Under Dr. Smith’s leadership, that it exactly what happened here. A solid model for future programs has been set.”
Dr. Smith says she was “very humbled” when she learned about receiving the award, “especially in the face of other incredible people who have been named” and also because it was decidedly a team effort. She is pleased the award has drawn attention to the many resources that are available for developing pastoral outreach programs to those who experience same-sex attraction.
Among those resources is a book, Living the Truth in Love, that includes some of the talks from the conference and is published by Ignatius Press. A second volume of the remaining talks will be published later this year.
Other winners of Our Sunday Visitor’s 2015 Catholic of the Year award are Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia; Carolyn Woo, CEO of Catholic Relief Services; Fr. Jacques Mourad, a Syriac Catholic priest who was abducted by terrorists; Lila Rose, founder of the pro-life organization Live Action; Marlene Watkins, founder of an organization that accompanies the sick and dying on pilgrimages to Lourdes, France; Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Newark; and Sr. Norma Pimental, MJ, director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.
The Jesuit magazine America recently interviewed Dr. Smith, asking her thoughts on an array of right-to-life issues. The enlightening article, “Bioethics and the Catholic Church: 21 Questions for Janet E. Smith,” can be found on America’s website.