WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Msgr. Jack Hamilton has been pastor in Sherwood Park for 12 years.
Msgr. Jack Hamilton has been a fixture in the life of the Edmonton Archdiocese for 50 years, serving as a parish pastor, chancellor of the Edmonton Archdiocese, vicar general and friend to many.
At age 75, which he doesn't show, Hamilton is still going strong and is willing to hang in as long as he can.
"These have been 50 happy years," he says proudly. "I don't think I have any regrets. It's been a wonderful time."
Hamilton is surprised, though, at how quickly the last five decades went by. "It just seems I was ordained yesterday," he said. "But I think it's marvellous I've been able to reach this milestone. Thanks God for my health and for the ability to carry on through these years."
His parishioners at the 5,000-family Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Sherwood Park think "Father Jack's 50th anniversary of priesthood is a reason to celebrate" and are planning a banquet in his honour for June 8.
"He is a very, very intelligent man and a devout priest who loves his people and who is kind and compassionate with his people," says Archbishop Emeritus Joseph MacNeil. "He's served this diocese very well."
In a recent interview, Hamilton was dismissive of his fit looks, saying he likely owes them to his genes. His father died at age 99 and his mother passed away just three weeks shy of 102.
"So there are good genes there, I think," Hamilton says, stressing he does not spend much energy trying to keep fit.
"I'm a first class couch potato," he laughs. "I try to walk as much as I can, but I don't participate in sports or anything like that.
"Generally speaking, I was never much of an athlete, although I love sports and I follow the sports quite a bit but more as a spectator than a participant." He plays golf "not very often and not very well."
The prognosis seems to be that Hamilton could be around for awhile yet. And if he had his way, he would like to remain in active service, preferably at OLPH.
The Montreal native says he has enjoyed all his assignments but some stand out. As chancellor, he was involved in planning the 1994 visit of Pope John Paul II to Edmonton and got to meet the pope.
"It was an exciting time for us." Everything went as planned, except the weather which was "a little wet and very windy."
As chancellor, Hamilton was the right hand of Archbishop MacNeil. "It was interesting work. You never knew from day to day what was likely to pop up. But that's what made it interesting - the variety of work."
MacNeil was happy to work with him.
"He was a wonderful support for a bishop," he said. "Because of his talents, he was a good advisor. He is someone who has a great vision of the Church, what we should be like, how we should live, how we should relate to other people."
For 35 years Hamilton edited Inter Nos, a newsletter for those involved in pastoral work. It was eventually turned over to the archdiocese's communications office and replaced by a weekly online newsletter.
In the 1980s he was named monsignor along with Fathers Bill Irwin, Don MacDonald and Felix Otterson. "This was supposedly in recognition that we did some good work," he explained. "I'd been 15 years with the chancery and I guess I hadn't messed up too badly."
Hamilton was born the third of four children in a devout Montreal Catholic family. He attended Catholic schools from the beginning and served as an altar boy from Grade 3 until high school.
"I was very impressed with the dedication and commitment of the priests we had in our parish," he recalled. "We had five priests and as an altar boy I served Mass with them all."
He thinks the first seed of his vocation came from the priests. More than once he dreamed about becoming a priest himself.
Following high school he attended St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., where he graduated with a bachelor of arts with a major in philosophy.
Again at the university he was impressed with the priests on staff. Many of his professors were priests and Hamilton believes "I got a little bit more of the vocation bug from them."
By then, he had already heard a lot about Edmonton from Ken Kearns, a high school friend of his older brother who had been recruited as a priestly candidate for the Edmonton Archdiocese.
Then at St. Francis Xavier he met several men who had come to Edmonton as seminarians at the bidding of Archbishop John Hugh MacDonald. One suggested Hamilton also come to Edmonton. He did in 1958 at age 21 and has been here ever since.
He studied at St. Joseph Seminary and was ordained at his home parish in Montreal, St. Ignatius of Loyola.
His first assignment was a "temporary" appointment at St. Andrew's Parish that lasted more than four years. Then he moved to St. Joseph's Cathedral for a year before he went into education at the University of Alberta.
After graduation, he spent three years teaching junior high at St. Nicholas School in the Beverly area. Then it was off to England to study catechesis for a year. Upon his return, he became a religious education consultant for the Catholic school board.
Two years later he was named pastor at St. Edmund's Parish, where he stayed for five years.
Then he was appointed the founding pastor Good Shepherd Parish and at the same time chancellor of the archdiocese. He served as Good Shepherd pastor for 10 years and chancellor for 15.
"The challenge of building a new parish - Good Shepherd - was another highlight for me," Hamilton said. "Not every priest gets to do that. I had the chance to help in the development of the parish right from nothing.
"When I went out there, we had no land, no money, no church, no house, and we were able to form a community and eventually put together enough funds so that we could build a church. That was a very exciting time."
When he left Good Shepherd, he became chancellor full-time.
Around that time Hamilton also served as pastor at Assumption Parish, administrator at St. Angela's Parish in Edmonton and Our Lady of Mercy in Enoch.
Then he went to Sacred Heart Parish in Red Deer, where he served for three years. After that, he returned to Edmonton to serve as pastor of St. Matthew's Parish for four years.
"I've been everywhere, man," he says.
In October 2000, Hamilton was named pastor of OLPH.
"It's been 12 years. Ordinarily I suppose I would've moved on but just because of my age they have pity on me. I don't particularly want to start over in another parish now," he says.
"So I presume I am going to be here for a little while yet. I hope to stay on if I can."
Hamilton says he is still having fun as a priest and enjoying what he does. At OLPH he has 11 staff who help him run the parish. "I like to delegate responsibilities," he says. "I have to; this is too large an operation for one person."
Currently he also serves as chair of the Priests' Retirement Fund. Under his leadership, the pension funds have been segregated and are well protected. "The fund is in fair shape now; we watch it very carefully."
Tickets for Hamilton's 50th anniversary banquet are now on sale. Those interested in helping plan the event, may contact Marguerite at 780-464-2216.