Mary Genevieve Smyth

Birth: June 30, 1929
Profession: Feb. 8, 1960
Death: Sept. 18, 2013

Religious of the Sacred Heart Mary Genevieve Smyth, died September 18, at Teresian House in Albany, New York. Remembered for her prayerfulness and loving interest in each person she met, her life was celebrated in a Memorial Mass at 2:00 PM on Monday, September 30 in the Teresian House Chapel. Burial will be in the Sacred Heart Cemetery at Kenwood in Albany.

Mary Gen Smyth was born June 30, 1929 in St. Louis, Missouri, to Rev. Joseph Henry, MD and Lillian West Smyth. She spent the first eight years of her life in New Mexico and Arizona, where her father, an Anglican priest, was serving Native Americans. The family moved to San Francisco in 1937, and later, to Seattle. It was in Seattle that Mary Gen, her mother, brother and sister converted to Roman Catholicism.  Her parents and brother, Joseph H. Smyth predeceased her. She is survived by her sister, Margaret E. Smyth of Sherwood, Oregon.

She entered the Society of the Sacred Heart at the Kenwood Convent in Albany on May 31, 1951. She made her first vows at Kenwood in 1954 and made her final profession at the Society of the Sacred Heart motherhouse in Rome in 1960.

A librarian before entering the Society of the Sacred Heart, Sister Smyth was willing to take on any task assigned to her. Her first assignment as a Religious of the Sacred Heart was at Forest Ridge Academy of the Sacred Heart, where she taught third grade for five years and assisted with bookkeeping. Over the next decade, she taught at Sacred Heart schools in San Francisco, Seattle, San Diego and Menlo Park.

She left the classroom for the administrative offices in 1967 and served as bookkeeper for Lone Mountain College (now part of the University of San Francisco), San Diego College for Women (now the University of San Diego), Convent of the Sacred Heart (El Cajon), a law firm and an elementary school.

In 1971, with Sister Elizabeth Hoye, Sister Smyth founded Abba House of Prayer, which became her ministry for the next 31 years. Supported by her community and order and with contacts gained through her work at a local law firm, she took the bold, courageous and faith-based action of relocating Abba House from the security of the Kenwood Convent to a home in an Albany neighborhood. This was unheard of at the time but demonstrated the clear vision she had to create a peaceful home for reflective prayer and fellowship. The center offered spirituality programs for vowed religious and lay people seeking a life of prayer. Some stayed for just hours or a day, others for weeks or months. Guests were welcomed by Sister Smyth’s beautiful smile and hospitality and given space and quiet. The Bishop of Albany, Bishop Howard Hubbard and hundreds of the leaders and members of diverse faiths enjoyed the experience known simply as “Abba House.”

“She had a deep love for Scripture, and her visit to the Holy Land helped make her Scripture Study classes come alive,” said another Religious of the Sacred Heart.

Committed to ecumenical support and spiritual development, Sister Smyth worked with a group of various Christian churches, the Roman Catholic Interreligious Council, the Muslim-Christian Dialogue, the Capital Area Council of Churches and the Baptismal Witness Program.

“I have learned to make prayer my life,” Sister Smyth said a few years ago. “I hold a grip onto God, and I know that He is always with me. Work can be a prayer; whatever I’m doing, I’m praying.”

Sister Smyth left the Abba House of Prayer for the Soboba Reservation in San Jacinto, California, where she worked as secretary and sacristan for the mission church. When she went to Soboba it was like a full-circle in her life. Her earliest memories were of her first eight years when she lived in Chinle, AZ on the Navajo Indian Reservation where her father ministered to the Indian people.  She always had love and compassion for the Native Americans.

Sister Smyth attended Seattle University and San Diego College for Women (now the University of San Diego) before completing her Bachelor of Arts degree at Lone Mountain College (now part of the University of San Francisco).

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