Our Lady Parishioners Remember Father Ham

By Susan Morse

Hampton Union, February 1, 2008

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Father Ham
Father George Ham, formerly of Our Lady of Miraculous Medal Church in Hampton, passed away last week.

Parishioners of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Parish remembered the Rev. Fr. George E. Ham this week, a man they said loved the church and serving those within.

Ham, 66, died Jan. 22, after a lengthy illness. Many in Hampton attended his funeral at St. Katharine Drexel Church in Alton, a parish he joined in 2002.

Ham was responsible for renovating the interior of the wood paneled Hampton church and for initiating St. Vincent de Paul and the soup kitchen at Hampton Beach. He was proficient in music and organizing the adult and children's choirs. He had a weakness for antique cars and Boston terrier dogs, parishioners said.

"He taught me to play the organ," said Ellen Kingston of Hampton. "He was an accomplished pianist and organist."

Father Ham was always addressed by his last name, and was well dressed, "down to his cuff links," said Mary Buddenhagen of Hampton.

Yet against this formal image is another of him, sitting in the large priest's chair behind the altar of the empty church, shouting music instruction at Kingston as she learned to play the organ. Or of him needing a Band-Aid, because he had cut himself cleaning the parish hall oven.

He owned a Packard and a Boston terrier named Tucker. Parishioner Jack Lessard said Father Ham must have bought a dozen cars from him over the years and asked him to hold a Pontiac convertible for this brother, Charles. In October, Father Ham visited his brother in South Carolina, where he attended an antique car show.

Father Ham didn't want to retire, Kingston said he told her. He wanted to be a priest until the day he died. In 1997, Ham celebrated his 40th anniversary as an ordained Roman Catholic priest. He was born and raised in Portsmouth, graduating from Portsmouth High School in 1959.

He served as pastor of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal from 1988 to 2002.

Ham was responsible for opening St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church on Route 1A in Seabrook. He introduced outreach programs and it was under his tenure that an addition was built at Sacred Heart School, adding four classrooms. Ham was also good at finance, parishioners said. All of his renovations are paid off.

"He was the force behind the handicapped access," said Vil Buddenhagen.

"Father Ham came to Hampton and redid the church, put the bell up," said Lessard, who remembers when Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal was built and opened in 1948. "He'd argue with you every now and then, but everything he did he did for the church. He was always looking out for it."

What parishioners remember most was the personal relationship they had with him. His example set the tone for the congregation, which grew under his tenure and continues to grow with current pastor, the Rev. Fr. Maurice R. Larochelle.

Ham learned their names and those of the children at Sacred Heart School, they said.

"He never forgot a name," said Laurette Pike of Hampton.

While renovating the church, workers uncovered lovely pink marble under the carpets at the altar, said Rose Marcotte. Her husband, Arthur, had discovered a non-abrasive cleaning solution that made the marble sparkle. In his next homily, Father Ham mentioned Arthur, Marcotte said.

"He gave wonderful homilies," Buddenhagen said.

His main homily, Kingston said, was to ask parishioners, "What is your personal relationship with God?"

"He was always helping somebody," Lessard said. "He was just a great guy."