Anastasia Holleman

Remembering Fr. Michael Mireau

By  Anastasia Holleman, Youth Speak News
  • October 24, 2014

On Sept. 22, former Edmonton Catholic School District chaplain Fr. Michael “Catfish” Mireau passed away after an extensive struggle with a rare form of cancer. He was 42 years old.

According to the Archdiocese of Edmonton, his “Catfish” moniker originated from a “nature name” he had to take up at the archdiocese operated Camp Encounter. He took this name, in turn, from his younger days drawing cartoon catfish with a friend.

My high school graduating class had the privilege of having Fr. Catfish — as we fondly referred to him — say our graduation Mass. I remember the day quite well. My class was huddled in the side area of a local church when our school’s guidance counsellor came to inform us of Fr. Catfish’s arrival, noting very sternly that Fr. Catfish was feeling particularly unwell that day, so we had all better be on our absolute best behaviour for once. When I heard this, I felt a bit guilty and was worried that our esteemed district chaplain would be unhappy with or even resentful of us.

For all the warnings, however, Fr. Catfish seemed anything but unhappy.

From the moment he opened the Mass, he was enthusiastic and lively, and he seemed genuinely happy to be there. If it hadn’t been for a basketball-sized abdominal tumour and his frequent drinking from a water bottle, there would have been no apparent reason to think anything was the matter.

A short while after my graduation ceremony, Fr. Catfish’s story of dealing with cancer while being a priest and chaplain made local news. Someone posted a picture of one newspaper’s piece on him to our graduating class’ Facebook group. Practically my entire grade rallied behind Fr. Catfish — even the students who seemed otherwise uninterested in religion or even God in general — because he made our grad Mass engaging.

When news broke early last month that Fr. Catfish had been admitted to a hospice, students, many of whom had never seemed particularly religious, came out of the woodwork to say they would pray for him. Upon his passing, even openly non-religious students mourned the loss of this man.

That was the effect of Fr. Catfish: he reached students. A self-styled “Jedi Master,” he — often accompanied by his pet dog Nemo — preached with an eclectic and sincere personality. As his YouTube account, which contains videos of him discussing theological matters and matters of his illness (often together) along with some of his homilies, shows, Fr. Catfish knew when to be fun and when to be serious.

This balance of silliness and sobriety seemed to strike a chord with students. During his lifetime, Fr. Catfish was able to demonstrate to students how engaging Catholicism can be. Even if some students didn’t take up Catholicism, most came to respect it when Fr. Catfish was speaking — something many failed to achieve.

When my mom told me of Fr. Catfish’s passing, I was devastated. His evangelization and his message reached a lot of people, and his passing was a great loss to an entire community.

Fr. Catfish was a man of God and a hero to countless people. May he rest in peace.

(Holleman, 19, is a second-year journalism student at MacEwan University in Edmonton.) 

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