Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Sylvester Joseph Hunter

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 7
Sylvester Joseph Hunter

by Ewan Macpherson


English Jesuit priest and educator; b. at Bath, 13 Sept., 1829; d. at Stonyhurst, 20 June, 1896. His father, the Rev. Joseph Hunter, himself descended from a long line of English Roundheads, was a Protestant dissenting minister, but is better known to posterity as an antiquarian writer and Shakespeare critic (see "Dict. of Nat Biogr.", s. v., Hunter, Joseph). In 1833 Joseph Hunter removed with his family from Bath to London to assume the function of Keeper of the Public Records, and in 1840 Sylvester Joseph Hunter entered St. Paul's School. While still a schoolboy, he was at least indirectly, brought into relations with the Catholic Church by the conversion of two of his sisters. Having gained a scholarship at trinity College, Cambridge, he entered that university in 1848 and, already remarkably proficient in classical literature, devoted himself mainly, if not exclusively, to the study of mathematics and physics. Graduating B.A. in 1852, he was placed eighth wrangler in the Mathematical Tripos for that year. Soon after this he entered Lincoln's Inn, London, as a law student.

In 1857 he was received into the Church by the same priest (Canon Oakeley) who, twelve years before, had received his two sisters. Within eight years of his graduation at Cambridge he had published two legal text-books ("The Suit in Equity" and "The Law of Trusteeships") which immediately attracted attention to his ability and professional attainments. His prospects at the chancery Bar were already morally assured when, in 1861, he decided to turn his back upon the world and try his religious vocation in the Society of Jesus. Entering the English Novitiate 7 September, 1861, he there passed through the regular biennium of probation, attended lectures in philosophy at St. Mary's Hall, Stonyhurst, for one year, taught for two years at Stonyhurst College, and thence passed on to his theological studies at St. Beuno's, where he was ordained priest in 1870. His career of inestimable usefulness to English Catholic education fairly began with his return, after ordination, to teach the higher classes at Stonyhurst. The requirements in physics and mathematics insisted upon by the University of London at that time constituted a formidable obstacle to Stonyhurst boys whose time had been almost monopolized by their Latin and Greek studies. Father Hunter's efforts to deal with this situation resulted in an increased number of Stonyhurst students mentioned in the London Honours List, as well as in two little books which he complied to assist others in the same branch of teaching. His influence was widened when, in 1875, he took up the training of Jesuit scholastics who were to teach in the colleges of the English Province. It was after ten years of this work that he was appointed rector of St. Beuno's, where he wrote the "Outlines of Dogmatic Theology" (3 vols., 1st ed. London, 1894) by which his name is now most widely known. Other spare moments were given to conducting the "Cases of Conscience" for the Diocese of Salford. During the last five years of his life, passed at Stonyhurst, he began a "Short History of England" which was unfinished at his death.

Letters and Notices (of the English province, S. J.).

E. Macpherson.