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The keys to a good life, says Charles Smallwood, are balance, perspective, faith and family. These are the virtues and values that led him through his early years, growing up within a segregated society that reached even into the pews of his parish church. And they are the virtues and values that continue to be his guiding light in his retirement years.

Charles Smallwood

Charles Smallwood

At 66 years of age, Smallwood is retired after a long career with the Maryland state government. He is the father of two grown daughters, the grandfather of 4 children, and the husband for the past 42 years of his beloved wife, Nancy B. Smallwood. He and his wife have had many joys and accomplishments, as well as times of deep grief, especially when their only son was killed in a car accident 20 years ago.  Through it all, they have looked to their Catholic faith as a firm rock of support.

Although African Americans are not often associated with the Catholic Church, Smallwood is firm in his conviction that they have a natural home in the Church of Rome. “I am a cradle Catholic, from the time of my conception to the time that the good Lord takes me from this earth,” he said. “It hasn’t always been easy. At one time, when I was growing up in Maryland, blacks could not sit in the front pews. They had to sit in the back of the church. We don’t like to talk about it, but it is nothing to be hidden. It happened at that time in that place."

Yet he views those days in a larger perspective of struggles within society and change within the Church.

“As I grew up, I watched the Church grow also in how it treats people, and today the Catholic Church is in the forefront of promoting the God-given dignity of all people,” he noted. “I am very proud to be Catholic, to be black and Catholic. I love my Church.”

His wife is also a strong Catholic, though she was brought up in another Christian church. “When she married me, she came into the Church,” Smallwood explained. “She is a great woman, a very, very strong woman of faith.”

His wife, who is a nurse, has been battling cancer, but Smallwood said that they both see the illness as a “grace” that they must suffer through, an opportunity to carry the cross with Jesus. “We learn to live with it, and learn to go through it,” he said. “I have never met another person who has handled this as well as my wife.”

They both draw strength from the sacraments, especially the holy Eucharist.

“We have the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and we can do so much more with Jesus in the sacrament than we could ever do on our own,” Smallwood said.

He added, “I get emotional when I say this, but the most important thing that any father can give his children is to teach them about the Eucharist. This is truly Jesus, truly present, and knowing Jesus in the Eucharist is the greatest gift a father can give his children.”

Having gone through struggles as a father, he has advice for younger fathers.

“One of the most difficult things about being a father is being able to balance home, work and recreation,” he noted. “The key to making that all work together is having a strong partner, a wife who can work with you, and keep the family together when you can’t be there because of other obligations.

“Fathers are great and important, of course. But they can’t do what they are supposed to do without a strong mother for their children.”

A longtime member of the Knights of Columbus, Smallwood says the fraternal organization has been a strong influence in building his life of faith and family values. He is a Master of the Fourth Degree in the Archdiocese of Washington, wearing the full regalia of the Order and leading honor guards at events in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

“When I was 9 years old, I was at the Memorial Day Parade in our county and I saw the Knights of Columbus marching with the capes and the chapeau,” he recalled. “I said to myself, ‘I want to do that one day.’ Now I am living that dream.”

He concluded, “I would not trade a day of all the time that I have spent with the Knights of Columbus, because I know they have given me so much. I have a motto about bringing men into the Knights: Reach one, teach one, educate him in the virtue of Catholic manhood. The Knights are all about service to others, and building a better world.”