Father Robert Hamel, who shared vocation with grandson, dies

| May 3, 2018 | 0 Comments

Courtesy Theresa Bergida

Few Roman Catholic priests could say they share a vocation with their grandson, but that was the case for Father Robert Hamel, who was married before becoming a priest, and whose grandson followed in his footsteps to ordination.

Ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 1983, Father Hamel died in Front Royal, Virginia, April 21. He was 91.

He served at St. Pascal Baylon in St. Paul, Sacred Heart in Robbinsdale, Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Maplewood, St. Michael in St. Michael and St. Luke in Clearwater. After retiring in 1991, Father Hamel moved to Venice, Florida, where he joined the Knights of Columbus. He also battled brain cancer for several decades.

Father Hamel’s path to the priesthood began in the 1970s. He was married for 35 years but divorced in 1972 and received an annulment in 1979. From that marriage he had a daughter, Theresa Bergida, whose oldest son, Joseph Bergida, was ordained a priest in 2012 for the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. The two priests concelebrated Mass on Father’s Day that year at St. Peter in Mendota, where, just months after his ordination to the priesthood, Father Hamel had baptized Father Bergida as an infant. Father Hamel also baptized Father Bergida’s six siblings, all at St. Peter.

The relationship between the priests deepened over the past three years, while Father Hamel lived near his daughter in Front Royal as his health declined. Father Bergida is assigned about an hour away at St. Andrew the Apostle in Centreville, Virginia.

“I had incredible sacramental moments with him,” Father Bergida said of his grandfather. “A number of times, we celebrated Mass together, he in bed and I’m there in a little makeshift altar at the side. … I felt like we really grew, not only as grandson-grandpa, but as brother priests, too. It was really incredible.”

Likewise, his daughter enjoyed the time with him nearby.

“We watched some good movies together, most of them spiritually based,” she said. “He loved birds, so we would go through some of his bird books. There were martens that had nests underneath the desk at the facility. So, we would go out on the lower level and we’d sit and watch those martens build nests.”

She also recalled the importance of his faith, something he passed down to her. “I love my faith, too,” she said. “And, I think that’s probably the thing I’m most grateful to my dad for.”

Father Paul Shovelain, who serves at St. John the Baptist in New Brighton, was baptized by Father Hamel at St. Michael in 1987 and said he continued to be an inspiration.

“He was a great mentor, and he was a witness of priestly joy,” said Father Shovelain, 30, who was ordained in 2014 and invited Father Hamel to be present for his first Mass as a priest, which took place at St. Michael. “And despite all his health issues throughout his life, he continued to be joyful in the midst of all of them instead of being angry or upset.”

A funeral Mass was May 7 at St. Michael in St. Michael with interment in St. Michael Cemetery.

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Category: Local News, Obituaries