Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 22, 2003
Fr. Mike McCaffery takes a bow
Dignitaries, politicians gather to honour priest
By GLEN ARGAN
"When did he get off it (the hot seat)?"
- Rocky Forest
He became rector of St. Joseph Basilica in time to be asked to officiate at the wedding of Wayne Gretzky and Janet Jones. That stirred up controversy over the use of a Catholic church for the wedding of two non-Catholics.
Then, Archbishop MacNeil appointed him chancellor of the archdiocese at the time when the issue of clergy sexual abuse was at its peak.
Father Mike later managed to make the front page on The Edmonton Sun on a slow news day when he made a few remarks to a reporter about one of his most heartfelt beliefs - that priestly celibacy should be optional.
But if McCaffery seemed to be a lightning rod for trouble, my experience was usually the opposite. More often, he was the one calming the waters - dealing with people no one else could deal with and ministering to those on the margins of Church life - homosexuals, the divorced, those who had fallen away from the practice of the faith.
Probably few of those people were at the $250-a-plate dinner. But one who was there was Mayor Bill Smith.
Now the mayor of one of Canada's largest cities may not normally be seen as a marginalized person. But Smith told a story about before he became mayor.
Smith and McCaffery had attended St. Joseph's High School together. McCaffery remembered Smith because he had gone on to play football for the Eskimos, but Smith had pretty much forgotten McCaffery. In any event, Smith, who had fallen away from the practice of the faith, phoned the basilica because his daughter was getting married and Bill and his wife Marlene felt the basilica would be the perfect venue.
McCaffery fielded the call and recalled their high school times. After Smith struggled to put the pieces together, he recalled McCaffery as "one of those guys who was always around and was kind of annoying."
Smith didn't know if the basilica would permit the marriage of their daughter because no one in the family attended church. But McCaffery explained he wasn't there to keep people out of the Church, but to bring them in.
The future mayor, with tears in his eyes, said that conversation was what brought him back to the practice of the faith and which led to Marlene becoming Catholic.
I suspect stories like this could be told many, many times because it was McCaffery who approached my own wife-to-be Nora and asked her if she was interested in taking part in the RCIA.
He officiated at our wedding too and now Nora is one of the more active, gung-ho Catholics in our parish.
Still, it is as chaplain to celebrities that McCaffery is best known.
A 12-minute video at the dinner ended with a specially taped greeting from Gretzky. Edmonton's greatest hockey hero was unable to make the dinner, but lots of notables did.
Oilers GM Kevin Lowe, federal minister Anne McLellan, provincial ministers Mark Norris and Iris Evans, former deputy prime minister Don Mazankowski, and Senator Douglas Roche were some.
Those who roasted McCaffery with all sorts of cock and bull stories included Chief Justice Allan Wachowich, Archbishop Joseph MacNeil, Global TV newsman Tim Spelliscy and former senator Jean Forest.
Forest recalled the WCR story in February that announced the upcoming roast with the headline, "Hot seat booked for Fr. Mike McCaffery." "When did he get off it?" quipped her husband Rocky.
Well, McCaffery has been out of the public eye for a couple of years now. But for one night he was the centre of everyone's attention as one heck of a large crowd paid a lot of money (that will be used to endow a chair in pastoral studies at Newman College) to pay tribute to one of Edmonton's best-known and most humble citizens.
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