Grade 3 students at St. Justin School pray in front of the traveling cross.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Grade 3 students at St. Justin School pray in front of the traveling cross.

March 23, 2015
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Six months after his death at the age of 42, Father Mike Mireau's spirit is very much alive in the classrooms of the city's Catholic schools. He is the talk of the town as a wooden cross made in his honour tours Catholic schools in the city.

On March 9, the travelling cross came to St. Justin School, where it began a tour of every classroom. Led by teacher Laurie Wojcichowsky, the Grade 3 class held a lively discussion on Mireau and the cross, which stood tall in a corner of the classroom.

When Wojcichowsky asked the class what they had learned about Father Catfish, as the priest was widely known, several hands went up.

"He had a dog named Nemo," replied Mariah.

"He died of cancer," added Adam.

"Father Catfish's favourite symbol is Superman," said Andrew.

GOD IS LOVE

When Wojcichowsky asked what was Mireau's big message from the Bible, Jaymie replied, "God is love."

Jaymie Calura, Allen and Andrei O'Campo, and Ava Baluyut prepare to take the cross to the next stop on its journey.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Jaymie Calura, Allen and Andrei O'Campo, and Ava Baluyut prepare to take the cross to the next stop on its journey.

Another student, Andrei, reminded the class that they will be selling daffodils for the Alberta Cancer Foundation this year in honour of all people who have died of cancer. The teacher pointed out that Mireau was undergoing chemotherapy and lost his ponytail to the treatment.

Questioned by Wojcichowsky, students said the cross was handmade by teacher Michael Pundyk from J.J. Bowlen School and that it is made of red oak because red was Mireau's favourite colour.

St Justin's principal Rena Methuen said every class was to prepare a reflection on the cross.

A POWERFUL SOUL

"This is a celebration of the memory of a powerful soul who respected what we did in the school and celebrated what we did," she said. "Father Mike took us in a bright new journey in our district and it's been beautiful. He was provocative. He made us think."

St. Justin handed the cross to H.E. Beriault School on March 11.

The cross began its journey Feb. 3 when it was taken in procession to the stage at the Faith Development Day. It was commissioned by Edmonton Catholic Schools to honour Mireau, who served as the district chaplain since 2010.

Designed and made by Pundyk, the cross is said to exemplify "the strong and sturdy character of Father Michael while also reflecting his favourite colour of red."

The base of the cross, which is adorned by the symbols of a red fish, the words "God is Love" and the Superman insignia reflect Mireau's passions during his lifetime.

The base of the cross from the floor to its top measures 33 inches – the 33 years of Jesus' life on earth. The cross' handle of 42 inches highlights Mireau's age when he died. The edge of the cross is scalloped, giving it an interesting outward appearance, no different than Mireau himself.

Mireau died Sept. 22, following a very public battle with cancer – one he documented online in an inspiring and provocative series of videos.

The net-savvy priest had a gift for connecting with young people, peppering his preaching with pop culture references, costumes, props and even his ubiquitous canine sidekick, Nemo. He drew particular inspiration from the First Letter of John in the New Testament, and took as his motto God is love.

Students and staff at each school the cross has visited have reflected on Mireau's message that God is love, said district spokesperson Lori Nagy. Many schools, including St. Justin, have created art, literature, photos, video or music as reflections.

These mementos are being gathered in a multimedia OneNote book in the district's portal for possible publication. The cross will take up permanent residence at Father Michael Mireau Catholic Elementary/Junior High School when it opens in the fall of 2016.