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Father Michael McCaffery is a model both of what it means to serve others and what it means to be an Albertan. Throughout his life and his career as a Roman Catholic priest, he has demonstrated a remarkable ability to reach and comfort those around him. He has also shown the great sense of energy, individuality and pioneering spirit that defines the Alberta character.
He was born Charles Michael McCaffery in Bassano, Alberta on September 17, 1935. Mike, as he is known, spent his early years in Brooks. His parents, Dr. Hugh and Isobel McCaffery, created a home that offered a solid social conscience and sense of compassion for others, tempered with a healthy dose of light-hearted humour. Mike’s family life also helped to plant the seeds of the strong ecumenical approach that would define his work as a priest. His mother was Anglican, his father was a devout Catholic and a great-grandfather was a Presbyterian minister. A favorite uncle was Mormon. To Mike, the common elements of the various beliefs were more apparent that any differences.
Throughout his career, Mike’s path has been as unique as the man himself. His questioning nature led him to leave his early studies at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Edmonton to work for the Social Action department of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, where he searched for a fuller expression of the church’s social teachings. He later returned to Edmonton and was ordained at St. Joseph’s Seminary in 1961. Father Mike began creating a ministry characterized by his sharp-witted, seven-minute homilies, his ability to deliver compassionate pastoral care to those in pain and crisis, and his strong desire to help those marginalized by society.
It was the time of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and Father Mike was eager for the changes being discussed by the Council. In 1969, he took a break from parish duties to pursue a Master of Sociology Degree at Fordham University in New York. He worked for an ad agency in New York and as an information officer for the Canadian Consulate before moving to Vancouver to work with recovering heroin addicts. He took on duties in Edmonton studying alcoholism in isolated northern communities and furthered his studies at Notre Dame University in Indiana. In 1976, he was drawn back to Edmonton and his pastoral work. He taught Pastoral Theology at Newman Theological College before returning to full-time parish work in 1983. He became Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Edmonton in 1993.
Father Mike serves as a fifth step listener for recovering alcoholics, listening to their stories and helping them come to terms with their actions. In the late 1970s, he co-founded a workshop called “New Beginnings” which has helped countless participants deal with feelings of loss and grief stemming from divorce, separation and death. He has also served a wide range of community initiatives, including the United Way’s Success by Six, the Junior Chamber of Commerce and the Progress Club of South Edmonton. In 1989, he was awarded a Paul Harris Fellowship for his many years of service to the Rotary Club.
A retirement tribute and roast was held in Father Mike’s honour in Edmonton in 2003. Some 1,250 people bought tickets to raise $325,000 to fund a chair in his honour at Newman Theological College. In keeping with its namesake’s strengths, the chair will deal with pastoral theology and the contemporary issues faced in ministries today.
Father Mike jokes that he’s still trying to figure out why he became a priest, showing both his sense of humour and his humility. The thousands of people whose lives have been enriched by his care and support over the years certainly know why. He has a unique ability to reach the hearts and souls of those around him, and he has put that gift to great use throughout his career.