Biographical Sketch of Right Rev. J. Thomas Duhamel
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Joseph Thomas Duhamel, second Bishop of Ottawa, is a native of the Province of Quebec, dating his birth at Contrecoeur, November 6, 1841. His parents were Francois Duhamel, and Marie Joseph Audet Lapointe, both also natives of Quebec, and both dying in Ontario.
Our subject was educated at the college of Ottawa, under the direction of the Oblate Fathers, took the ecclesiastical dress September 1, 1857; received the tonsure June 27, 1858, and the four minor orders as follows: Porter, June 23, 1859; Reader, June 17, 1860; Exorcist, June 23, 1861, and Acolyte, June 21, 1862.
He was ordained sub deacon, June 21, 1863; deacon, November 29, of the same year, and the 19th of the next month, he was ordained Priest. He received all these orders at the hand of the late Right Reverend J. E. Guigues, first Bishop of Ottawa.
Father Duhamel was parish priest at St. Eugene, county of Prescott, Ontario, from November, 1861, to October, 1874, and while there built a fine brick church, costing about $25,000.
On the 1st of September 1874, he was appointed Bishop of Ottawa, and was consecrated on the 28th of the next month, being only thirty-two years of age. We here add, in a condensed form, a brief sketch of his life up to the time of his consecration, as it was then published in the Daily Free Press of Ottawa:
At length after a considerable lapse of time, the successor to the late lamented Bishop Guigues, finds himself established in the Palace of this city, the chief spiritual authority in the vast diocese of Ottawa. Bishop Duhamel is the distinguished person whom His Holiness Pope Pius IX. considered worthy of being elevated to this high and responsible position. He is hardly thirty-three years of age, a circumstance which gave rise to doubts, in some minds, as to the wisdom of the selection, but those who knew His Lordship best must heartily approve of the appointment. An opinion is now prevailing, that for the world as it is, energy and physical, as well as intellectual vigor are indispensable features in the composition of him who would rule successfully and satisfactorily. In this way, Bishop Duhamel’s youth is looked upon, rather as a qualification than a disqualification. Mgr. Laval was only thirty-five years of age when he was called to occupy the Episcopal seat at Quebec. Mgr. de Pontbriand was only thirty-two, and Mgr. Plessis only thirty-seven, when consecrated, and Mgr. Tache was scarcely twenty-seven when appointed to succeed Mgr. Provencher, who was himself only about thirty-three when made Bishop.
“The father of Bishop Duhamel, an agriculturist, removed to Ottawa, and young Duhamel entered the college of this city, receiving a thorough classical education, and was noted for talents of no ordinary kind. On the completion of his studies, he immediately decided to consecrate his life entirely to God, and accordingly
entered the Ottawa Seminary, where, in prosecuting his theological studies, he evinced wonderful powers of mind. He was ordained priest in 1863, and was appointed to the vicarage of Buckingham, county of Ottawa, in which capacity he continued to manifest the possession of Evangelical Virtues as well as rare administrative qualities. On the 10th of November 1864, be went to St. Eugene, in the township of East Hawkesbury, to reside as parish priest. At that time the parish of St. Eugene was one of the poorest in the diocese, and hence the young priest found hard work constantly necessary, especially as he had the difficult task before him of completing a church, which was left unfinished by his predecessor. He found many obstacles to surmount, but by dint of persistent and energetic endeavors and the exercise of his great abilities, he succeeded and completed what is, without doubt now, one of the finest churches in the diocese. Education, previously neglected in this parish, found in him an ardent friend and promoter, and at the present there are many institutions in St. Eugene, which will long remain an honorable monument to his name. The parishioners, by all of whom he was deeply beloved, will long remember him who was their priest and guide during ten years. Bishop Duhamel accompanied His Lordship Bishop Guigues, to Rome, at the time of the Ecumenical Council, but receiving word of the serious illness of his mother, whom he loved tenderly, he was forced to leave and return a couple of weeks after his arrival in Rome. Unhappily he did not reach St. Eugene in time, as his mother had expired a few days previous to his arrival.
“Bishop Guigues continued to honor the Reverend Father Duhamel, arid in many ways gave him unmistakable marks of his confidence in his virtues and intelligence. In the month of October 1873, he accompanied Bishop Guigues, as theologian, to the reunion of Bishops at Quebec, where his remarkable talents and acquirements were generally acknowledged.
“Bishop Duhamel is of a middle stature, slightly dark complexioned, with black penetrating eyes, and animated features, his lofty forehead denoting the thinker and philosopher. He is affable and generous, when necessary, circumspect, full of tact and energy. Determination and perseverance are his characteristics, and once he undertakes anything, it must go through. He speaks with ease and fluency, and while his sermons denote deep thought, they are not wanting in graceful form and style. His store of knowledge is of the purest and most substantial kind. He speaks the French and English languages with great facility, an important qualification it will be admitted. It is admitted on all sides, that he is among the most distinguished clergymen of the diocese, and it is felt that his appointment will be a satisfactory and beneficial one.”
Since his consecration, Bishop Duhamel has taken a great interest in the cause of education, giving every encouragement to the Catholic educational establishments of the city of Ottawa, and the diocese at large. He has stimulated on several occasions, in his pastoral letters, the zeal of both the clergy and the parents for the secular and religious education of youth. In 1875 he wrote; “The future of the country and of religion; depends entirely, it may be said, on the good or bad education which youth shall receive. Parents are strictly bound to give their children a truly Catholic education. This obligation is founded on the law of God. We do not hesitate to add, very beloved brethren, that parents are obliged to fully comply with this duty, to establish, encourage and support Catholic schools, and to have their children attend them.” (Tenth pastoral letter). In September 1878, he thus wrote to the clergy of the diocese: “Another scholastical year has just commenced. Numerous pupils are rapidly filling the houses of higher education and elementary schools. Everywhere those who are devoted to the instruction of youth rival one another in zeal and ardor to insure the success of the great work that occupies them. These efforts should, undoubtedly, be seconded by the pastors of souls, since it is their duty to continue the mission instituted by our Divine Master, when he said: Go, teach all nations. You will then judge it right, beloved cooperators, if I invite you to give this year again, and always, your whole attention and most constant care to the cause of education. Remind parents of the strict obligation for each one to instruct his children, or have them instructed, according to his condition and the means Providence has given him. Frequently visit the schools of your parish.” Bishop Duhamel has obtained the title, honors and privileges of Doctor of Divinity, for the Rev. J. H. Tabaret, superior of the college of Ottawa for upwards of a quarter of a century, as a just reward of his great work in the cause of education, and as an encouragement to the professors of that college. To give further encouragement to education, Bishop Duhamel has presented to the college of Ottawa, to the Literary Institute of the Grey Nuns, and to the educational establishment of the Sisters of the Congregation de Notre Dame, silver medals to be awarded, to merit. Considering the great impulse given to the cause of education in our days all over the world, and the need in which the Catholic youth, especially, stands of a deep, solid, and extensive knowledge in all branches, and, foreseeing that this will even be more the case in the future, Bishop Duhamel spares no trouble nor expenditure in providing for them all possible means of attaining this great and most desirable object. And, as philosophy is the fountain head, and the safe guide of all arts and sciences, by his fostering care, the system of teaching in this important branch, has been considerably improved, as it may be seen by the present high standing of the philosophy class in the University of Ottawa, directed by the Oblate Fathers. One of the first acts of Bishop Duhamel was to order that no young man should be admitted to begin his ecclesiastical studies before he had followed a regular collegiate classical course, including two years of philosophy, and, then, that, before he could be ordained priest, he should during four years three years only were previously required study dogmatical and moral theology, holy scriptures, canon law, and ecclesiastical history.
Shortly after his consecration, Bishop Duhamel, with the assistance of his clergy, had a magnificent monument erected in the interior of the Cathedral, to the memory of the lamented Right Reverend J. E. Guigues, his predecessor.
In the autumn of 1878, Bishop Duhamel went to Europe, visited Rome, and was kindly received by the new Pope, and among the favors bestowed by His Holiness, was that of raising the cathedral of Ottawa to the dignity of Minor Basilica.
Bishop Duhamel takes a great interest in the material as well as the spiritual progress and advancement of the parishes and missions in his diocese. He takes the opportunity of his pastoral visit to stimulate the generosity of his flock to build churches, to replace the wood chapels built years ago. Since the year 1874, he has dedicated six new substantial stone churches, of which the smallest is one hundred feet long. During the same period, one brick church, two large and commodious wood churches, six chapels have been built. Six missions have become parishes, with residing pastors which brings the number of regular parishes to sixty-two.
During the Bishop Duhamel’s yet short administration the cathedral of Ottawa has been entirely renewed inside and presents a neat, rich and beautiful appearance, and may be numbered among the most magnificent cathedrals of Canada.
Bishop Duhamel has always shown a special attention to the success of the charitable institutions of the diocese, which number he has increased by four, and which comprise now, four hospitals, three asylums for the orphans and aged people, two for fallen women and one foundling hospital. To enable these institutions to perform their good work, the Bishop has regulated, that each institution would be patronized by a few parishes and missions, i.e., that the nuns to whose care these institutions are entrusted, would be allowed to take up in these missions yearly collections from house to house.