Brian Smith, 64, CHA's vice president of sponsorship and mission services, died unexpectedly on Tuesday, Nov. 8, having fallen while on an afternoon walk near his apartment in suburban St. Louis. He was an influential thought leader in the Catholic health ministry and particularly dedicated to recruiting and mentoring the next generation of mission leaders for Catholic health care providers in the United States.
Smith joined CHA in 2012 as senior director of mission integration and leadership development. In 2019 he was promoted to head the association's mission services department, which focuses on mission integration, leadership formation, theology and ethics, ministry formation and sponsorship.
His work over the years enhanced the quality of CHA programming for mission leaders, ministry executives and physician leaders. Among his contributions, he led the development of the CHA Ministry Identity Assessment, which sets out an elucidating process and objective criteria that Catholic hospitals and facilities can employ to evaluate their effectiveness as ministries of the church and their organization's fealty to mission and faith. He also energized and advanced efforts in the ministry to prioritize succession planning for key roles in mission, ethics and pastoral care.
He was a faculty member of the CHA Ecclesiology and Spiritual Renewal Program for Health Care Leaders, CHA's spiritual formation retreat and immersive experience in Rome and the Vatican. The curriculum deepens the knowledge of Catholic tradition and faith values among participating health care executive leaders, sponsors and board members.
Smith also helped shape programming that brought together chief executives, sponsors and senior mission leaders of the nation's largest Catholic health systems for in-depth conversations about Catholic identity and institutional integrity at a time of rapid change and corresponding challenge in health care.
Before the pandemic, when physician burnout had become a significant concern in health care, Smith helped focus attention on the benefits of formation programming for physicians to increase their resilience and job satisfaction.
Recognizing the added emotional and spiritual burden the pandemic put on all caregivers, Smith addressed the importance of refreshing body and spirit in an article titled "Mission — Back to the Basics." It was published in the Spring 2022 edition of CHA's journal, Health Progress. He urged leaders within the Catholic health ministry to remember they are part of a "ministry of love" with a sacred tradition of caring for the broken and frail that extends to their colleagues.
"We live as a community, caring for the members of our organizations so they know they are not alone and in turn, they can minister in the name of the community," he wrote. "And then, when the worst has passed and we can catch our breath, we make time for renewal and refreshment for ourselves and for our teams."
Prior to joining CHA, Smith held positions in the Catholic health and social service ministry related to theology, pastoral care, mental health and political advocacy. He was a vice president of mission integration at CHRISTUS Spohn Health System in Corpus Christi, Texas, and a vice president of system mission at Mount Carmel-St. Ann's Hospital in Westerville, Ohio. He worked for 15 years in parish ministry and service at the Department of Special Education of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
Sr. Mary Haddad, RSM, CHA president and chief executive officer, said Smith was "a man of deep faith, caring spirit and had a loving heart for those in need. His commitment to Catholic health care will continue to be known through the lives he touched. I will miss him as a colleague and a friend."
Dennis Gonzales, CHA's senior director of mission innovation and integration, called Smith a "fierce advocate and believer in our ministry and probably one of the best leaders I've ever met."
Diarmuid Rooney, CHA's interim vice president of sponsorship and mission services, said of Smith, "His contributions to Catholic health care cannot be overstated."
In late October, just weeks before his death, Smith announced his plans to retire at the end of the year and give up his commuter lifestyle. His permanent home was in Columbus, Ohio. In a message to CHA staff, he said that the pandemic and the recent death of his father and other life circumstances had caused him to think about "how I want to spend the rest of my time on Earth."
"My plans for retirement are still unfolding," Smith wrote, "I am counting on God to show me how I may be of service to others in new ways."