October 8, 2003   Vol. 42 No. 28

Special stewardship bolsters faith and hope of others

by Lena Pennino

Michael playing his saxophone.
His favorite angel is St. Michael the Archangel but he toots his horn like Gabriel.
(TLIC photo by Lena Pennino)

Valley Stream – It’s not commonplace to hear the sleek sounds of a solo saxophone during a Tuesday morning Mass. It’s also not often parishioners receive hand-delivered bulletins to their front door from a man on a bike. Some might raise their eyebrows if they overheard a thirty-something adult announce prayer intentions as if Jesus was a personal friend standing a few feet away.

These special acts are commonplace for a special man named Michael John Smith, 34, who was born with Down syndrome and is an active parishioner of Holy Name of Mary Church in Valley Stream.

“He keeps his eye on the parish,” said Father Thomas Harold, pastor of Holy Name of Mary. “He likes to make sure everything is OK. If someone wants to know what is going on at Church, they can ask Michael.”

Michael, as he is known to all, is a lead usher and volunteers at two Masses each weekend. He readies the bulletins for Mass every week and hand delivers some copies to parishioners he thinks may want them early. He plays the saxophone at every Tuesday morning Mass and usually receives applause at the end of the celebration.

Recently at home, where he lives with his parents, Michael closed his eyes, pursed his lips and played “Morning Has Broken” on his sax while being interviewed by The Long Island Catholic. His eyebrows lifted and crinkled as he continued to play for the interviewer. After he finished a few songs, he sat back in his chair and winked at his proud parents, Ed and Mary Smith, sitting a few feet away. He has memorized dozens of songs but he doesn’t have a favorite. “I am sure I have plenty of them,” Michael said.

Afterwards, his parents recalled how Michael has continually surprised them. He has a job at Staples where he has worked for 10 years. He volunteers at Church. In the summer, he plants a garden of tomato and basil plants. At home, he helps with the chores whether it is barbecuing dinner or vacuuming the living room.

But his life could have been drastically different if his parents heeded doctors’ advice to institutionalize Michael after he was born. The pro-life family refused and raised him with the support of their four older children, other family, neighbors and the Church. (Mr. and Mrs. Smith co-chair the parish Respect Life committee and Mrs. Smith writes political articles for Life News, a Long Island pro-life publication.)

Michael continues to be a symbol of unwavering faith to many people he meets.
Josepha Sugrue, a fellow parishioner, recalled a time when “a friend was kneeling by the Sacred Heart statue and Michael was praying as he always does, loudly, to the Sacred Heart.” Her friend “was brought to tears by the way he was talking to Jesus,” she said. “Everyone loves him…He’s hugging people and they’re hugging him right back,” said Ms. Sugrue. “I love the young man.”

When he doesn’t attend daily Mass, Michael watches Mass on television and afterwards recites the rosary. He likes to pray to St. Michael the Archangel, St. John the Baptist and St. John the Apostle, his namesakes, and to St. Joseph, whose name he took at Confirmation. He has received all of his sacraments with the help of a parish special education program which began more than 30 years ago and continues today. There are approximately 10 to 15 people in the program now.

During the interview, Michael chatted enthusiastically about his job, God and himself. Occasionally he would pause and seem to choke on his words. But he never stuttered in his small acts of kindness. The reporter left the interview with a bag of homegrown tomatoes and two basil leaves.

Reprinted with permission of the L.I. Catholic

Michael was called to his eternal reward on January 24, 2013.

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