Catholic Free Press

Catholic Free Press Digital Edition

  • Jul
  • 11

Hints, a Bible and two questions

Posted By July 11, 2013 | 12:44 pm | Lead Story #3
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By Tanya Connor

Three women hold some responsibility for what Father John Frederick Hamm has become.
When he was a child, his mother kept dropping not-so-subtle hints about priesthood. He ended up at the seminary she kept pointing out.
When he was a teenager, his girlfriend gave him a King James Bible. He hasn’t stopped studying Scripture since.
Several years ago, his sister-in-law asked him questions. He responded by starting a new (to him) form of prayer, and deciding (last minute) to go the whole way.
June 29 he got there, as Bishop McManus ordained him a priest at St. Paul Cathedral.
“I think it probably started from when I was a child, but I didn’t put two and two together,” he said. “I used to play Mass in the living room. I was the priest. My brother Michael was the congregation.”
All of his childhood his mother, Bernadine (Troisi) Hamm, who died in 1993, was after him to be a priest, he said.
“I had six boys; you’d think one of them would want to be a priest,” she would say.
“She used to call my youngest brother, Patrick, ‘the bishop,’” Father Hamm said. “She kept trying to drop the hint. She always pointed out Mount St. Mary’s when we passed it. ‘See that building back there? That’s a seminary.’” The family would pass the seminary when they lived in northern Virginia and went to the parents’ hometown of Williamsport, Pa.
Now Father Hamm muses, “I spent six years in formation there. How’d that happen?”
“When I was a teenager I got very interested in reading and studying Scripture,” he said. “A girlfriend of mine at the time gave me a King James Bible and I read it cover to cover. I started studying Scripture at about age 18 and never stopped.” Before that, he’d just read portions from the family Bible, he said.
“If it wasn’t for that celibacy thing, I would probably consider becoming a priest,” he told a later girlfriend.
“The celibacy wasn’t … explained very well when I was young,” the 55-year-old said. “We were never taught what a great gift celibacy is, how that love is transferred to the people of God. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s a blessed, grace-filled life.
“So the fire was always lit, ’til my sister-in-law fanned the flames in 2002. Paula, Michael’s wife, asked me two questions that summer that just pointed my whole life in a new direction, questions that kind of broke open the door that was sticking.”
“Have you ever prayed the Liturgy of the Hours?” she asked, referring to official liturgical prayers required of clergy and encouraged for laity, which she and her husband were praying.
“For reasons that I cannot articulate, I had to pray the Liturgy of the Hours,” Father Hamm said. “I bought the set, read the instructions and began praying all seven hours every day, even at work. I didn’t even realize it was the breviary. My mother used the term in talking about priests’ prayers.”
Later his sister-in-law asked him, “Did you ever consider becoming a permanent deacon?”
“I got in touch with the head of the diaconate,” he said. “ I had my application filled out to apply.”
Then, he said, “I got in touch with the director and I said I had to do the whole smash” – go for priesthood.
He contacted the vocations director, then Msgr. Thomas J. Sullivan, who told him to finish his undergraduate degree first.
Born May 9, 1958 in Harrisburg, Pa., Father Hamm spent three-and-a-half years as a professional musician after graduating from Lenape High School in Medford, N.J. He sang and played keyboards in the rock bands Hostage and Trespass in Philadelphia and South Jersey.
That helped him get into George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., he said. He would have finished his bachelor’s of music there, but he got a promotion from Marshalls that moved him to Long Island and later Massachusetts. (He continued working for the company after TJX bought it.) In Massachusetts, he joined St. John, Guardian of Our Lady Parish in Clinton, where he became the organist.)
He probably never would have gotten back to school if it wasn’t for his vocation, he said. He enrolled at Assumption College, getting his bachelor’s in liberal studies, with a concentration in music, in 2007. Then he returned to the vocations office.
“He got me going to the spaghetti dinners and helped me through the application process,” Father Hamm said of Father James S. Mazzone, now director of the vocations office.
“The fall of 2007 kicked off the most joyful six years of my life, studying in a great house of formation with the most fantastic group of men a man could possibly know, men of love, prayer and generosity, who lived what they believed,” he said of those at Mount Saint Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md. “I will be a frequent Mount visitor.”
April 11 he played selections from Bach, Beethoven and Mozart for Mount St. Mary’s University, of which the seminary is a part, as a “thank you for the privilege of going to Mount St. Mary’s,” the composer and pianist said.
Classmates, already in their assignments, couldn’t come to his ordination, he said. But he went to some of theirs, and classmate Father Matthew Krankall came to his, as did Father J. Daniel Mindling, the academic dean, his father, John Hamm; his stepmother, Catherine Hamm, and all but one of this seven siblings, most of their spouses and some of their children.
“You think you’re as joyful as you can get, and then you share a brother’s ordination,” Father Hamm said celebrating with fellow seminarians. “And our God is a God of joy, and if we look for that joy, we’re always going to find it. And that’s the kind of priest I want to be. We’re not called to mourn our faith; we’re called to celebrate it. I couldn’t be more thrilled with what I’m doing, every step of the way.”
The man who suffers from a lifelong back problem said he thinks joy will be a recurring theme for him.
“It’s vital for the Church, and Pope Francis is such a beautiful example of it,” he said. “At times, when we’re fighting against the evils of abortion, the loss of family values and religious freedom, it’s important not to lose our joy. And those issues … make it hard to be joyful. But with God it’s easy … you need to trust in him and smile.”