Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 27, 2005
Pastor, priest, confessor, healer
Fr. Mike McCaffery's 44 years as a joyful shepherd are marked with the 2005 Alberta Order of Excellence
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Whether cradling a baby he had just baptized or holding the hand of a despondent drug addict on the mean streets of Vancouver, Father Michael McCaffery could always be trusted to never let go.
"Father Mike" has dedicated his life to helping people enter the world as God's children, to manage their way through it and to console the souls the departed leave behind.
For his years of unwavering devotion to his community, McCaffery recently received the 2005 Alberta Order of Excellence.
"I'm flattered they would select me. As the saying goes, 'None of us here are worthy of something like this.' It's a great honour," said McCaffery, 69.
A priest for all seasons
Perhaps best known locally as the priest who officiated over the wedding of Wayne Gretzky and Janet Jones, McCaffery was pastor at St. John Bosco Parish when the "Black Friday" tornado tore through Edmonton in 1987, demolishing a trailer court in the parish, killing several people.
"I have been around a long time and I'm involved in a lot of things around the city," McCaffery said. "I have encountered people in many stages of their lives, from beginnings to endings. There have been times of great happiness and times of great grief. I have always been very ecumenical and that comes from my family background."
Established in 1979, the Order of Excellence recognizes Albertans who have made a lasting impact through their contributions to society.
Council chair Dr. Robert Westbury said McCaffery's selection speaks of his unique contribution to the community because very few Albertans have been inducted into the order.
"Before 2005, only 64 people have been inducted. I do not have a vote, but I think what the five council members saw in Father McCaffery was a man for all seasons. What stood out was his ecumenism and how he embraced all faiths while he himself is a man of one faith," Westbury said.
"To the best of my knowledge, I think he is the first member of the clergy to receive the award."
Ordained in 1961, McCaffery has served both the Catholic Church and community members regardless of faith, ethnic background or age. He was rector of St. Joseph's Basilica, president of Newman Theological College and archdiocesan chancellor. He volunteers with numerous charities and service organizations, including the Rotary Club and Catholic Social Services.
An inclusive soul
"I have done a lot of little things, but nothing that is great," McCaffery said. "I am fortunate that I have been in the right place at the right time.
"I have always thought one of my roles was to be inclusive rather than exclusive. I am trying to help people, whatever their situation."
Although semi-retired, McCaffery, who credits the late Msgr. Bill Irwin as his mentor, was recently appointed the Edmonton Archdiocese's representative on the boards of Catholic Social Services and Catholic Charities/Sign of Hope Society.
"I still perform baptisms and I have a lot of weddings coming up. I still have a lot of friends who I try to help out.
"Some of them have children who have died."
Alberta Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice Allan Wachowich joked that his lifelong friend was once too much of a rascal to receive such an award. He then said he could think of no one in Edmonton more deserving.
"I'm really pleased the selection committee chose Father Mike," Wachowich said.
"No one has answered to the spiritual needs of individuals more than him. He treats everyone equally, whether they are rich and famous, or downright impoverished.
"He has a sense of balance, saying everyone has dignity and they should be respected. He is a remarkable individual. It truly is an honour for me to be able to call him my friend."
McCaffery said the timing of the award was important to him. "To receive this on the 100th anniversary of the province is an added honour."
Global TV station manager Tim Spelliscy first met McCaffery in the 1970s when his family attended St. John the Evangelist Parish where McCaffery was an associate pastor.
"He struck me then as someone who really challenged us as Catholics in terms of living our faith. I think he reaches out to everyone.
"He can cross that line to reach the active Catholics, those who are not so active, people of other faiths and people of no faith and he brings them together. He is ready to minister to all of them and help them any way he can," Spelliscy said.
He has the connections and he knows who to call to get things done, Spelliscy said.
A healer of lives
"Father Mike is polite, classy and understated. I have never met anyone who met him just once, and did not feel they were in the presence of someone special," he said.
"It is hard to put your finger on it, but I think his greatest gift is that he heals people."
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