By Thandiwe Konguavi
Staff Writer

Starting a church from nothing—no land, no rectory and no money—is no easy job.

But Msgr. John Hamilton has never shied away from a challenge in his 55 years of ministry.

His role as founding pastor of Good Shepherd Parish in Edmonton is one of the most memorable of his major accomplishments.

“We had to start pretty well from scratch, and that was a big challenge that I enjoyed very much,” said Hamilton.

Affectionately known as “Father Jack,” Msgr. Hamilton, vicar general of the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton and beloved diocesan priest, is retiring at age 80 – a move that is being met with mixed emotions.

“It’s been fantastic,” said Hamilton. “I can’t think of any down moments in all the 55 years.”

The long-time pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Sherwood Park will celebrate his last Mass as pastor at the parish on Tuesday, Aug. 15.

“He will be greatly missed, but the comment ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’ comes to mind,” said pastoral assistant Raylene Yuzyk.

“He is a priest for the people,” said Monna Senez, also a pastoral assistant. “He understands his parishioners. Whether he’s talking to a young group, old group, or teenagers, he’s not out of touch.

“When he presides at a baptism, if you see his face, it looks like he’s enjoying his job and that’s the same thing for weddings and funerals. The focus is on the family. He’s very mindful. He connects.”

Hamilton is also retiring from his role as vicar general, in which he assisted in the governance of the Archdiocese and acted for the archbishop and auxiliary bishop in their absence.

“It has been a true blessing for me to have had the assistance and counsel of Msgr. Hamilton in his capacity as my vicar general,” said Archbishop Richard Smith.

“He is well known among present and past parishioners as a priest with a profoundly pastoral heart. His deep love for the people of God, deepened by years of closeness to them, especially in times of need, informed the advice he would bring to the table as we discussed the needs of the Archdiocese.”

Hamilton will keep the title of monsignor, an honour he received after 15 years of service as chancellor of the Archdiocese.

Born and raised in Montreal, Hamilton was an altar boy and often found himself in mischief.

“Although my mother had been praying for a vocation in the family for years and years, I was always the kid that was in trouble it seemed,” he said. “They were surprised, because I had one older brother more disciplined than I ever was.”

Hamilton attended St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., and surprised his family when he decided to move to Edmonton to enter St. Joseph Seminary.

“Clear as a bell I remember the day I was ordained, and it feels like it was yesterday,” said Hamilton. “So I’ve been pretty well occupied, and busy, throughout those years and very satisfied. The Lord has been with me, animating me and pushing me on. I’ve been very blessed.”

Hamilton was ordained in 1962, served at St. Andrew Parish and St. Joseph’s Basilica and then became a junior high school teacher and consultant for Edmonton Catholic Schools.

In 1978, he was appointed both pastor of the new Good Shepherd Parish and chancellor of the Archdiocese. He went on to serve as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Red Deer, St. Matthew Parish in Edmonton and then Our Lady of Perpetual Help, where he has served since 2000.

Hamilton, who was involved in his student newspaper and wrote for daily papers in Nova Scotia, didn’t leave journalism behind when he entered the seminary. For many years he edited a news magazine for priests of the Archdiocese. The magazine later evolved into the Quid Novum email newsletter.

But preaching and celebrating Mass have been among the greatest joys.

“Whether it’s here in the big church or off in a side chapel or in a school setting, I enjoy celebrating with whatever the congregation is at that time,” Hamilton said.

In his retirement, he plans to stay in Sherwood Park with his two Havanese dogs, Zorro and Carmen. He also hopes to stay active in ministry.

“It’s going to be sad that he’s not going to be here every day, but the good thing is that he’s going to be around,” said administrative assistant Jenny Velazco, who said Hamilton was at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish all the time, even on his days off.

Brenda Frederick, business and facility manager and volunteer coordinator for the parish, said it’s “remarkable” that Hamilton has been able to serve for as long as he has.

“We’re sorry to see him go but at the same time, we can’t be selfish and hang on to what we like and who we like,” she said. “So he goes with my prayers and blessings.”

Hamilton has taken trips to Ireland, the Holy Land, and South Africa – often with a group of parishioners in tow – and he hopes to continue travelling in his retirement.

Retirement age for a priest is usually 75 “so (Father Jack) has put in extra to work for five more years,” said Rev. Raj Savariappan, associate pastor at Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

“Everybody looks to him with reverence and respect, as a man who gives wisdom to his children.”

Hamilton’s best advice is to trust in the Lord: “He won’t do everything, but if we are willing to do our part, the Lord is always there to be with us, to guide us, to lead us, and to welcome us, always.”

“My only (parting) word to those here and those I’ve served is one of gratitude, because over the years, truth be told, I think they have ministered to me far more than I’ve ministered to them.”

Msgr. Hamilton will be replaced by Rev. Jim Corrigan, who will join Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish after many years as pastor of St. Theresa's Parish in Edmonton.