HAMEL, PIERRE, Roman Catholic priest, Jesuit, teacher, and superior; b. 23 Feb. 1832 in Sainte-Claire-de-Dorchester, Lower Canada, son of Joseph Hamelle, a farmer, and Marguerite Fournier; d. 6 June 1905 in Montreal.
After studies at the Petit Séminaire de Québec, Pierre Hamel entered the Jesuit noviciate in Montreal on 8 Sept. 1851. He taught French and Latin at the Collège Sainte-Marie in Montreal in 1853–54, and for the next two years studied philosophy there. From 1856 to 1862 he was a teacher of Latin, and probably English, at St John’s College in Fordham (New York City) and St Francis Xavier College in New York. After four years of theology in Boston and New York, Hamel was ordained priest on 26 July 1865. He returned to his teaching in New York from 1866 to 1869 and then went to Belgium to complete a year of spiritual training (the Third Year). In the 15 years that followed, numerous different offices were entrusted to him: assistant to the superior at St Francis Xavier College (1870–71), philosophy teacher at the Collège Sainte-Marie (1871–72), the parish ministry at Guelph, Ont. (1872–73), assistant to the superior at the Jesuit noviciate in Sault-au-Récollet (Montreal North) (1873–74), and prefect of studies and discipline at the Collège Sainte-Marie (1874–75).
Hamel then embarked upon a remarkable career as a missionary in Ontario. As superior of the Jesuit residence in Guelph and parish priest from 1875 to 1882, he began the church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, modelled on the cathedral of Cologne; it would be recognized as one of the finest Gothic churches in Canada. From 1882 to 1887 he was the priest of St Andrew’s in Port Arthur (Thunder Bay).
On 9 Nov. 1887, as the result of a visit by Father Jean-Baptiste Lessmann, who had been sent by the Jesuit superior general to investigate the Canada mission, Hamel became superior general of the mission for four years. From 1846 to 1879 it had been part of the New York–Canada mission; it had then been attached to the Province of England, but in 1887 it was judged ready to be self-supporting and was raised to independent rank. During Hamel’s term two delicate and important problems were debated in public: the matter of the Jesuit estates, which had been confiscated by the British government upon the death in March 1800 of the last Jesuit in Canada, Jean-Joseph Casot*, and the university question. On 9 April 1888 Hamel gave Father Adrien-Déséry Turgeon, rector of the Collège Sainte-Marie, full power to negotiate a settlement of the Jesuit estates with Honoré Mercier*’s government. The final agreement, reached in June 1888, satisfied all the parties. By its terms $60,000 was allocated to the Protestant schools and compensation of $400,000 given to the Catholic Church in Quebec, of which the Jesuits would receive $160,000. Publication in February 1889 of Pope Leo XIII’s bull Jamdudum put an end to the tensions created by the establishment of a branch of the Université Laval in Montreal [see Édouard-Charles Fabre*]. The Jesuits obtained virtual independence in matters of teaching: the students of the Collège Sainte-Marie were not required to write examinations set by the Université Laval, unlike students of the other colleges affiliated with the university.
The solution of these two problems, along with the incorporation of the Society of Jesus by the Quebec Legislative Assembly on 12 May 1887, enabled the mission to move ahead. Between 1887 and 1907 it went from 214 members to 308. During his four years as superior Hamel, out of concern for the spiritual welfare of English-speaking Catholics, set up the English classical course at the Collège Sainte-Marie, which heralded the founding in 1896 of Loyola College [see Gregory O’Bryan]. He also founded a journal of spirituality for English Catholics, the Messenger of the Sacred Heart, published in Montreal.
Except for a few months spent at Quebec in 1896 to recover his health, Pierre Hamel carried on his ministry from late 1891 to 1903 in the northern Ontario missions. Sometimes he worked among the lumberjacks in the Sudbury and Byng Inlet regions or around Sault Ste Marie, Mich., and sometimes among the Indians in the Garden River area. In 1903 he returned to Montreal and two years later, on 6 June 1905, he died at the Scolasticat de l’Immaculée-Conception. He was buried in the order’s cemetery at Sault-au-Récollet on 8 June. The Jesuit Édouard Lecompte described this tireless missionary as “a man of learning, of noble and sweeping ideas, with an imagination that soared above mean motives, a very kind man, moreover, very zealous, very spiritual.”
AC, Montréal, État civil, Catholiques, La Visitation (Montréal-Nord), 8 juin 1905. ANQ-Q, CE6-6, 23 févr. 1832. ASJCF, A-4-1; A-16-1; BO-35-16; BO-62-1; BO-72-42; BO-78-12; D-7; R-11-6; R-21-4. Northwest Review (Winnipeg), 17 June 1905. La Patrie, 7, 8 juin 1905. La Presse, 7 juin 1905. The College of St. Francis Xavier; a memorial and a retrospect, 1847–1897 (New York, 1897), 58, 76. Édouard Lecompte, “Les jésuites du Canada au XIXe siècle,” Lettres du Bas-Canada (Montréal), 4 (1950): 154–55. Litterœ annuœ missionis canadensis Societatis Jesu, a die 1a aug. 1903 ad diem 1am aug. 1907 (Montréal, 1910), 134–36.