Wednesday, March 11, 2015


[This is taken from Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devout and the Devoted by Patrick McCaskey published by Sporting Chance Press and available on Amazon and selected stores and public libraries.]

A former All-American basketball player at Notre Dame University, John Smyth was a first-round draft choice of the Saint Louis Hawks (now Atlanta Hawks) professional basketball team.  Smyth was born in Chicago, where he attended DePaul Academy. Smyth elected to forego a professional basketball career and entered the seminary instead. Upon his ordination in 1962, he was assigned to Maryville Academy. 
Legendary sportswriter Bill Gleason once quipped, “John Smyth was a first-round draft choice in the National Basketball Association. He had to choose between the NBA and the Archdiocese of Chicago. He decided to go for the money. Little did he know they would give him an orphanage.”
Father Smyth was named executive director of Maryville in 1970. However, the archdiocese had determined to close the facility because it was no longer financially viable and its buildings were in disrepair. Smyth saved the facility by reaching out to other funding sources using his considerable power of persuasion. Smyth’s fundraising talents and selfless dedication to Maryville’s children became legendary. He developed several multimillion dollar events that helped revitalize the facility and manage the growing needs of its constituency. Sports stars, movie stars, rock stars, civic leaders, business owners, and celebrities of all kinds knew of his work and supported Maryville.
There Is a Hope that Burns Within 
Smyth created innovations that gave the children more of a role in their living space and tried to emulate a family surrounding. He also emphasized sports and activities that would encourage the children to grow and develop self-esteem. Former students often commented that once they entered Maryville, they felt safe for the first time in their lives. Family involvement was encouraged, but if not possible, the staff, including Father Smyth, did their best to encourage the students in a personal way.
The state now emphasizes keeping children with their families (even troubled families) as much as possible and sending other socially and emotionally capable children to foster homes. This has meant that the youth attending Maryville and other like-kind facilities are typically more seriously troubled.

 A quarter century into Father Smyth’s directorship, Maryville had taken on increasingly complicated cases and when a teenage suicide and assaults took place within a short time span, the State of Illinois withdrew its wards. Other institutions of its type have experienced similar problems.
Father Smyth stepped down from the directorship in 2004, but he still resides at Maryville and continues his pastoral duties with the community of Maryville-Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine. Smyth also continues to head the Maryville Foundation. The Foundation uses donations to pay for postsecondary school for any Maryville alumnus who is admitted to a college or vocational training program.
Under Sister Catherine Ryan, former head of the juvenile division of the Cook County States Attorney’s Office, Maryville relies more on treatment and clinical care for its troubled children.  During Smyth's long service and afterward, Maryville expanded its service. Services today include: residential programs, behavioral and mental health services, family support services, secondary and special education, and community development programs. New additions in the past few years include Maryville Crisis Nursery and the Children’s Healthcare Center.
In July 2005 Father Smyth established the Standing Tall Charitable Foundation to provide educational and vocational training scholarships and to issue monetary awards to institutions whose purposes coincide with and further the foundation’s mission, with emphasis on assisting those most at risk and in need.  The name and logo were inspired by a sentiment expressed by Father Smyth for many years: “No person stands so tall as the one who stoops to help a child.”  In March of 2007, Father Smyth was appointed president of Notre Dame College Prep in Niles, Illinois, a position he held until just recently.

In 2009, Sports Faith International inducted Smyth into the Sports Faith Hall of Fame. SFI also created the Fr. John P. Smyth Award in honor of the man whose life bears testimony to the world-changing power of combining the virtues and influence of sports with mountain-moving faith.  This honor is awarded annually to an outstanding Catholic athlete or coach interested in pursuing a religious vocation.  

Copyright 2014, Sporting Chance Press.  Patrick McCaskey is a senior director of the Chicago Bears, Chairman of Sports Faith International that recognizes athletes who lead exemplary lives, and  Chairman of Catholic Radio Station WSFI 88.5 FM. Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devout and the Devoted by Patrick McCaskey published by Sporting Chance Press and available on Amazon and selected stores and public libraries.