Archbishop Smith managed to bring a smile to the members of Father Mike Mireau's family during his homily at the priest's Sept. 26 funeral at St. Joseph's Basilica.

WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN

Archbishop Smith managed to bring a smile to the members of Father Mike Mireau's family during his homily at the priest's Sept. 26 funeral at St. Joseph's Basilica.

October 6, 2014
LASHA MORNINGSTAR
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Father Paul Kavanagh was one of Father Mike Mireau's closest friends. The pair met in the seminary in 1997, were ordained three weeks apart in 2002, went to Disneyland together and Kavanagh was at Mireau's side when he died Sept. 22.

The two buddies had a lot of laughs at Disneyland just a few months ago. They had gone to California for a religious education congress in March and stayed on for a day or two.

What was Mireau's favourite ride? Kavanagh bursts out laughing.

"The roller coaster. He really wanted to go on the roller coaster. So we took a few rides on the roller coaster."

Continued Kavanagh: "I have to say he was a great friend. If you are his friend, he always wanted to just be present to people whatever their different needs might be – just to bring people to encounter Jesus Christ."

PHOTO | CATHOLIC ARCHDIOCESE OF EDMONTON

Their friendship began when "we started our theology studies at St. Joseph Seminary together back in 1997. We have been great friends ever since."

The popular Mireau was buried following a funeral Mass Sept. 26 that packed St. Joseph's Basilica to overflowing, with nearly 200 people watching the funeral on closed circuit TV in the cathedral basement. The funeral was also live streamed onto the Internet by three Edmonton TV stations.

Many of the mourners were the youth Mireau served as chaplain at St. Francis Xavier School. Tears flowed unabashedly.

Mireau's family, father Maurice, mother Linda, sister Laura and brother David, stricken by the loss of their son and brother, bravely wore big Superman pins in honour of the priest's penchant to wear a Superman costume.

Only 42, Mireau battled cancer for a year and a half while the archdiocese prayed for a miracle for him. He spent the final week of his life in the palliative care centre of the Edmonton General Hospital and died Sept.22.

"It was a peaceful death," said Kavanagh. "We celebrated the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick with him, and family and friends gathered around his bedside, and he passed away peacefully."

Mireau had even made arrangements for his beloved dog Nemo to live with dear friends.

At the funeral, Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith brought ripples of laughter that cut through the grief.

Smith, celebrant of the Mass, acknowledged Mireau's creative ministry, telling of his response when he first saw Mireau's ponytail, heard his nickname of Catfish and saw him in The Edmonton Journal wearing his Superman suit.

But he explained this exposure of the priest's uniqueness "was in order to help all realize that God breaks the mould every time a new human being is fashioned. Each and every man, woman and child is loved uniquely by God for who they are unique."

The archbishop celebrated Mireau's "unmatched ability to connect with our beloved young people. He went where the young were to be found and entered their world" using analogies from superheroes and Star Wars to speak the truths of faith.

Smith also told of the priest proclaiming the truth of Christ in order to make his death a gift to others.

PREPARING OTHERS

Kavanagh reiterated that point. "In the last two years he has not only prepared himself for dying but really tried to prepare everyone else, myself included. I think that was really a great gift.

"He certainly wanted in a very real way to show what Christian dying is. Through a lot of conversations with people he was just very open and very honest with what he was going through.

"He said when he hurt, when he accepted it, when he was angry. A lot of people can relate to that."

Michael Mireau in February 2001, a year before his ordination as a priest.

WCR FILE PHOTO

Michael Mireau in February 2001, a year before his ordination as a priest.

Born in Edmonton and a graduate of the University of Alberta with a master of science in mathematical physics, Mireau studied at Newman Theological College and St. Joseph Seminary.

Ordination came in 2002 and the young priest served in parishes in Edmonton, Leduc and Thorsby before becoming chaplain for Edmonton Catholic Schools in 2010.

JOY OF PRIESTHOOD

"There's a lot of joy in priesthood," he said just before his ordination. "The joy comes from the idea of getting into a community. I just love the people in the community. Just love them."

Mireau was his own man. A self-described geeky kid, he said before he studied for the priesthood, he thought God's plan was for him to be a rocket scientist.

Sometimes garbed in a Superman or other superhero costume, he made his rounds with Nemo, his rusty-brown, long-haired dachshund always trotting nearby. That, plus his open door and non-judgmental comfortable conversations were a welcoming presence.

He certainly was a good student, graduating with his master of divinity degree with honours and awarded the Joseph MacNeil Outstanding Achievement Award at Newman College.

His passion for faith included a love of nature. Mireau loved his summers as spiritual director at Camp Encounter and credited that time as drawing him to the priesthood.

BURIED NEAR CAMP ENCOUNTER

In honour of that, he has been interred at Our Lady of Lourdes Cemetery in Lac La Nonne near Camp Encounter. Also to honour his work with youth, the Edmonton Catholic school board has named its planned school in the Summerside neighbourhood Father Michael Mireau Catholic Elementary/Junior High School.

Known by his nickname Father Catfish (he doodled catfish as a youngster), Mireau reached out to children and adults alike by addressing popular culture, reaching people where they were in life and through videos posted at www.fathercatfish.com.

As he battled cancer, Mireau spoke openly on his videos, blogs and homilies of his feelings as well as his belief and love of the Lord.

"People have been supportive in many ways, and for that I am grateful," Mireau told the WCR when the cancer went into remission. "They are astounded, I think in many ways, by the power of prayer."

But the disease struck again, this time terminally.