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SMITH-RELATIVE Oct-17-2008 (550 words) With DINNER. With photo. xxxn

Dinner gives Smith's great-great-grandson new take on famous relative

Tim Cadigan, a student at Calvert Hall College High School in Towson, Md., poses for a photo last month. Cadigan is the great-great-grandson of Alfred E. Smith, the first Catholic and Irish-American to be a major party's nominee for president. (CNS/Owen Sweeney III, Catholic Review)

By Matt Palmer
Catholic News Service

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Tim Cadigan's eyes widened as he walked into the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York last year.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other influential dignitaries from around the world were in attendance, taking part in the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner.

Cadigan, then 16, was aware of Smith's legacy, since he is one of his great-great-grandchildren, but the magnitude of his ancestor's life was finally in plain view.

The event honors the first Catholic and Irish-American to be a major U.S. party's nominee for president. In presidential election years, the dinner features the major parties' presidential nominees, so this year Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. Barack Obama traded quips.

A junior at Calvert Hall College High School in the Baltimore suburb of Towson and a standout swimmer, Cadigan already has been elected to the parish council at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Baltimore.

His keepsakes from last year's dinner include two photos taken with Blair, who two months later became a Catholic.

"We joke in my house," Cadigan said, "that it was because of me."

For more than 60 years, the Al Smith dinner has been a fixture on the American political scene. Founded in 1946, the dinner celebrates the former governor of New York, who fought religious bigotry during his quest to lead the country.

The Democrat lost to Republican Herbert Hoover, but the effects of his groundbreaking 1928 quest continue.

"People saw there were real threats to the country, and it wasn't the pope," said John Cadigan, Tim's father.

"It's amazing to think an event such as the Al Smith dinner can have so much of an impact on the country," Tim Cadigan told The Catholic Review, Baltimore's archdiocesan newspaper.

Attending the Al Smith dinner at the age of the 16 has become something of a rite of passage for Cadigan men.

Tim's father went to his first dinner in 1980, when then-President Jimmy Carter and challenger Ronald Reagan spoke at an event known for its humor. John Cadigan attended the event with his mother, Anne, who was Smith's youngest granddaughter.

"Just listening to national leaders speak and a soon-to-be president extolling the virtues of somebody in your family is a source of great pride," John Cadigan remembered.

He said that his family changed when his mother died in 1998.

"I think each of us in our own way wanted to get involved in the church a little bit more," he said.

John Cadigan went on to serve as president of the parish council at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart. Tim followed suit, winning a seat on the parish council this past spring.

He hopes to secure more youth involvement at Mass. Despite his youth, he feels he can make a difference.

A church sacristan, Tim Cadigan is a member of 10 clubs at Calvert Hall and logs nearly 30 hours a week in the pool at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club.

"I have about 30-40 minutes of free time in my day," he said.

That doesn't mean he's not thinking about following in his great-great-grandfather's footsteps.

"I don't know if I see myself running for president," he said, "but I definitely have an interest in politics."


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