PROVIDENCE — Dominican Father Philip Alphonsus Smith, ’63, a priest, educator, and administrator who served as the 11th president of Providence College, died unexpectedly at Rhode Island Hospital November 4, surrounded by close friends, including members of the Dominican Community. He was 74 years old.
A current professor of philosophy at Providence Colllege and a member of the Dominican Community of St. Thomas Aquinas Priory, Father Smith served as president from 1994-2005, guiding an impressive, multifaceted transformation of the College.
In recognition of his many achievements and commitment to the academic standing and mission of the College, Father Smith was awarded the Veritas Medal—the highest honor the College can bestow—during the College’s 87th commencement exercises in May 2005. The Board of Trustees also voted to name the new performing arts center on the East Campus in his honor, and the facility was dedicated as the Smith Center for the Arts.
Born on September 6, 1933, in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada, Father Smith was a son of the late Philip and May (Byrne) Smith. He was raised on a 100-acre farm in Fort Augustus, east of Charlottetown, and attended the Webster Corner School, a one-room schoolhouse, from Grades 1 through 10, before completing his high school education at St. Dunstan’s School in Charlottetown. He came to the United States in 1959.
Father Smith joined the College faculty in 1981 as an assistant professor of philosophy. He was promoted to associate professor in 1984 and to professor in 1994. From 1982-1985, he also was the special assistant to then-College President, Dominican Father Thomas R. Peterson, ’51.
Before becoming president of Providence College, Father Smith served as president of the Pontifical Faculty of the College of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., from 1990-1994.
After earning a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy from Providence College in 1963, Father Smith earned a master’s degree in philosophy from St. Stephen’s College in Dover, Mass., and bachelor, licentiate and lectorate degrees in sacred theology from the College of the Immaculate Conception. He also earned a doctorate in philosophy and religion from Drew University in Madison, N.J.
Father Smith also received honorary degrees from Brown University and Caldwell College in Caldwell, N.J., in 2005.
Father Smith’s body was received today at the Chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary in St. Thomas Aquinas Priory. A Mass of Christian Burial will be concelebrated on November 9 in St. Dominic Chapel. Burial will be in Dominican Community Cemetery on the Providence College campus.
Bishop Tobin released the following statement upon hearing of Father Smith’s death: “For many years, Providence College and the Diocese of Providence have enjoyed a positive and mutually beneficial relationship. During his many years of devoted service at Providence College, Father Smith certainly contributed to that strong friendship. I would like to express my sympathies to his family, friends and to all the members of the Dominican family.”
While we rejoice in his many accomplishments, we will miss his presence among us and we will pray for the peaceful repose of his priestly soul.”