Smith was born on 21 October 1943 in Battersea, London, England. He was educated at Clapham College, then an all-boys Catholic voluntary-aided grammar school. He studied at Exeter University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in law. He then undertook studies for the priesthood at St. John’s Seminary in Wonersh and the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) in Rome (earning his doctorate in canon law).
Smith was ordained to the priesthood on 5 July 1972. After doing pastoral work from 1972 to 1974, Smith began teachingcanon law at his alma mater, St John’s Seminary, Wonersh, in 1977. He then served as a curate in Thornton Heath (1984–1985) and as the rector of St John’s Seminary (1985–1995).
On 21 March 1995, Smith was appointed Bishop of East Anglia by Pope John Paul II. He received his episcopal consecration on the following 21 May from Cardinal Basil Hume OSB, with Archbishop Michael George Bowen and BishopAlan Charles Clark serving as co-consecrators. Smith was later named Archbishop of Cardiff on 26 October 2001, following the resignation of the Capuchin, John Ward.
Smith has chaired the Catholic Truth Society since 1993 and the Department for Christian Responsibility and Citizenship within the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales since 1998. He was also chairman of the Central Religious Advisory Committee (CRAC) of the BBC and ITC from 2001 to 2004. In 2002 he was made a sub-prelate and chaplain of theVenerable Order of Saint John. In 2004 he was made an Honorary Fellow of the University of Wales, Lampeter and also of Cardiff University in 2006.
On 30 April 2010, Smith was named as the Archbishop of Southwark, replacing Archbishop Kevin McDonald who resigned the see due to ill health. He was installed on 10 June 2010.