HAMON, ÉDOUARD (baptized Édouard-Jean-Marie), Roman Catholic priest, Jesuit, and author; b. 8 Nov. 1841 in Vitré, France, son of Julien-François Hamon, a clog-maker, and Perrinne-Gillonne Guillet; d. 11 June 1904 in Leeds, Que.
Édouard Hamon did the first six years of his classical studies in Saint-Méen-le-Grand, France. He entered the Society of Jesus in Angers on 20 April 1860. After teaching the first year in the classics program (Latin Elements) and the first year of the Philosophy program at Vaugirard (Paris) and Laval, he was at Fordham (New York City) in 1868. The following year he was in Montreal at the Collège Sainte-Marie serving as prefect of students. Ordained to the priesthood in Woodstock, Md, on 29 June 1872, he completed his theological education in Montreal, where he taught literature at the Collège Sainte-Marie and on 15 Aug. 1878, at the age of 36, took his final vows.
Hamon’s eloquence, piety, devotion, and tireless zeal destined him for a career of preaching and the cure of souls. His superiors entrusted him with such responsibilities in the Quebec and Montreal chapter houses from 1877 to 1885. In particular, he was a preacher at Le Gesù in Montreal, going out from there as a “missionary” to the neighbouring parishes. According to Father Louis Lalande, Hamon quickly became a good Canadian: “No foreigner . . . knew us better or loved us more.” He involved himself in every religious movement and took part in all the great debates. During the Saint-Jean-Baptiste day celebrations at Quebec on 24 June 1878, he delivered an address on church and state that attracted wide attention and was published later in the year. The text showed he was an orthodox and unbending ultramontanist. God and his law, he declared, are the true foundations of society, the source of the authority vested in the leaders of nations. “When the state decides to dispense with Jesus and his doctrine, the people move into the city hall, proclaim themselves rulers, and become tyrannical.” Canada had not reached this point, of course, but Canadian society was troubled. Liberals and freemasons were at work, championing the idea that the state was independent of the church and religion had nothing to do with politics. In his view nothing was farther from the truth: society could not prosper unless there was a “close union between the leaders of the people and the representatives of divine authority,” with politics subordinated to religion. It was the duty of Catholics, therefore, to be vigilant and to fight against these enemies by every means in their power.
To Hamon, the exodus to the United States, which after a slack period of a few years reached record levels between 1879 and 1882, seemed a greater threat to the Quebec countryside than liberalism. Following the example of the province’s élite, he fought bitterly against it. In his lectures and sermons, as well as in the play he published in 1882, Exil et patrie, he condemned the emigrants for boasting during return visits to their native land and thereby encouraging others to leave. He portrayed the true nature of exile in the bleakest of terms: many emigrants experienced hardship and unemployment; some became anglicized and renounced their faith. “Band of innocents that you are,” exclaims one of the characters in his play, echoing the words of cure François-Xavier-Antoine Labelle*, “move out to the Ottawa valley and the Saguenay! For us French Canadians the future lies there, in the north.”
In 1885 Hamon was appointed missionary excurens. For several years he preached at retreats in the parishes of the province and to French Canadians in New England. Using a simple and direct style and drawing on a wealth of suitable anecdotes and rhetorical devices, he focused on family problems and courting and denounced impurity, blasphemy, and drunkenness. He took up these themes again in several booklets, including Les misères humaines, causeries familières sur quelques défauts et vices des familles and Le roi du jour: l’alcool; both would meet with considerable success when they were published in Paris in 1903.
To extend the effects of his preaching, Hamon endeavoured to recruit men and boys over the age of 16 into the Ligue du Sacré-Cœur, which he had founded in Montreal in 1883. He saw it as “an arsenal where the best means of salvation could be found.” By devotion to the Sacred Heart and by taking communion at least four times a year, the members of the league undertook to uphold the Catholic spirit in their families and to fight against blasphemy and intemperance. Their fervour was nourished by Le Messager canadien du Sacré-Cœur de Jesus, a monthly publication started by Father Jean-Baptiste Nolin in 1892, and Le Messager de la Ligue des hommes, an annual booklet of some 60 pages launched by Hamon in 1884 and modelled on the almanacs then so popular. Under the impetus he provided, the cause progressed rapidly. By 1890 there were 103 leagues with 36,275 members, nearly half of them in the United States. Hamon’s preaching had taken him to most of the dioceses in the northeastern states; he even spent the year 1887 in Worcester, Mass.
In the course of his travels Hamon became thoroughly acquainted with the emigrants’ situation. In 1891 he published a noteworthy study, Les Canadiens-français de la Nouvelle-Angleterre. Although he lamented, like his contemporaries, the mass exodus that was weakening the French Canadian community, he recognized that the emigrants had improved their living conditions and were satisfied with their lot. He did not hide his admiration for the tenacity and courage of these people who “in 20 years had built 120 churches or chapels served by Canadian priests, [and] 50 large convents, where nuns from Canada provide a Catholic and French education to more than 30,000 children.” He described sympathetically how in the 19th century the church, the parish school, the press, and the mutual benefit societies had enabled the exiles to preserve their language, religion, and customs in a foreign land. He believed they would survive and he saw in this survival a sign that Providence had entrusted them with the mission of winning the American northeast to the church. Like many others, he maintained that some day the French Canadians of Quebec and New England would become one people.
From 1897 to 1900 Édouard Hamon was the superior of the Jesuit residence at Quebec; from 1900 to 1904 he was attached to the parish of Immaculée-Conception in Montreal. In both places he wrote, delivered outstanding sermons, and preached at numerous retreats. On 11 June 1904, during a retreat in Mégantic county at Leeds, he died of a paralytic attack. He is said to have told his confessor: “I have always asked the good Lord to let me die during a mission, sword in hand. I really believe he will grant my prayer.”
The ASJCF holds a number of items relating to Édouard Hamon, including correspondence, sermons and speeches he gave, and copies of the pamphlets, dramatic pieces, and books he wrote. His most important published works are L’Église et l’État: discours prononcé à l’église St. Jean-Baptiste de Québec le 24 juin 1878, à l’occasion de la fête patronale de la Société St. Jean-Baptiste (Québec, 1878); Exil et patrie: drame en 5 actes ([Montréal], 1882); Les Canadiens français de la Nouvelle-Angleterre (Québec, 1891); and, under the pseudonym of Jean d’Erbrée, La franc-maçonnerie dans la province de Québec en 1883 (s.l., [1883?]) and La maçonnerie canadienne-française (s.l., [1884?]).
Arch. Départementales, Ille-et-Villaine (Rennes, France), État civil, Vitré, 10 nov. 1841. L’Événement, 17 juin 1904. DOLQ, 1: 81–82, 237–38, 465–66. Yves Roby, Les Franco-Américains de la Nouvelle-Angleterre (1776–1930) (Sillery, Qué., 1990). Gérard Tremblay, “Le père Édouard Hamon, s.j., fondateur des ligues du Sacré-Cœur, 1841–1904,” Le Messager canadien du Sacré-Cœur (Montréal), 67 (1958): 340–48.