Jesuit Father Edwin A. Merchant died peacefully, surrounded by family and friends, on December 9, 2014, at Thunder Bay Regional Hospital in Thunder Bay, Ontario. He was 85 years old and in religious life for 66 years. Fr. Merchant was born in Port Arthur, Ontario on July 21, 1930, the son of William Merchant and Margaret Curly. He was proud to have been born in a Jesuit parish, St. Andrew’s, and later served there as pastor.
He attended Regiopolis High School in Kingston, Ontario for a few years before entering the Society of Jesus in Guelph, Ontario on July 30, 1948. After two years of humanities study, Fr. Merchant began a three-year philosophy program at the Jesuit Seminary in Toronto. From 1955 to 1958, he taught Latin and French at Saint Mary’s University High School in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He returned to Toronto for the study of theology and was ordained on June 18, 1961, in the chapel of the St. Joseph’s Motherhouse in Morrow Park, Willowdale. Tertianship followed at Port Townsend in Washington State, USA.
Fr. Merchant loved to learn, speak and teach French. Upon his return to Canada, he taught Latin and French at Campion College in Regina and then went to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., to complete a Master of Science in French Studies. He had a great dedication to French and was able to spend a summer in Aix-en-Provence, France. Throughout his life, Fr. Merchant appreciated films, particularly French films and would stay up at night to watch them on television. He also appreciated popular French Canadian singer-composers of the day, such as Félix Leclerc.
More teaching in Winnipeg and Halifax followed, until in 1972 when he became the chaplain at McMaster University in Hamilton. He then moved on to the University of Guelph as a chaplain at the Newman Centre for a five year placement. In 1978, he became the director of Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ontario, for three years. After a sabbatical, he continued in chaplaincy but specialized in the giving of the Spiritual Exercises in Edmonton, Alberta, Regina, Saskatchewan, and Winnipeg, Manitoba. While living in the west, Fr. Merchant would take trips east and visit his family and Jesuit friends from city to city.
In 1991, he returned to his birthplace and became the pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Thunder Bay. Since then Fr. Merchant had provided a myriad of pastoral ministries, including retreat direction. His last “posting” was at St. Elizabeth Church, where he assisted Father Rey Ronquillo with Masses, both in French and English.
His companions found Fr. Merchant to be a quiet and shy man but very engaging and intellectually acute. He had a calm deliberation and a compassionate regard for others. His teaching and linguistic skills were remarkable, as were his homilies. He had a real talent for mimicking or imitating public personalities and could well entertain his friends with his commentaries. Fr. Merchant had a talent for organization and was uncomfortable with disorganized or unplanned events. He even served as the Secretary of the province’s Commission on Ministries in the 1970s.
Family was very important to him, as he was very important to his family. Fr. Merchant was integral to its sacramental life, from presiding at weddings, funerals and family Masses, to daily interactions where he shared his humor, insights, intelligence, spirituality, faith and love without condition. He was selfless. He was loved.
Fr. Merchant is survived by his sisters, Rosemary Bell and Kathleen McFarlane, brother Donald and wife AnnaMae, numerous nieces, nephews and dear friend and caregiver, Fr. Rey Ronquillo. He was predeceased by his father and mother, William and Margaret Merchant, brother John, brothers-in-law John McFarlane and Bill Bell and sister-in-law Jean Merchant.