Catholic priest who married Janet and Wayne Gretzky dies from COVID-19 complications

Born Charles Michael McCaffery in Bassano, Alberta on Sept. 17, 1935, Father Mike McCaffery passed away Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. Courtesy: Alberta Government/Alberta Order of Excellence

Rev. Mike McCaffery, a leader in the Edmonton Catholic community for more than 50 years, died Monday evening “due to possible complications related to COVID-19,” according to the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton.

Father Mike, as he was known, was 85 years old.

To the wider public, McCaffery is likely most well known for officiating the 1988 wedding of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky and his wife Janet.

A year earlier, he had become rector of St. Joseph’s Basilica in downtown Edmonton.

He was born on Sept. 17, 1935 in Bassano, Alta. and spent his early years in Brooks before moving to Edmonton. McCaffery studied at St. Joseph Seminary in Edmonton from 1954 until 1961, when he was ordained on Sept. 23 of that year at St. Joseph’s Basilica.

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McCaffery served various parishes in Edmonton, Maskwacis, Leduc, Mearns and Red Deer. He also taught at Newman Theological College, where he was later appointed president.

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Father McCaffery was chancellor of the Edmonton Archdiocese through most of the 1990s. He officially retired in 2000.

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“Father Mike was well loved and greatly respected as a priest who loved to help other people, especially those on the peripheries,” Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith said.

In a statement Tuesday, the Archdiocese said McCaffery was living at the Villa Vianney — a private, independent living home for retired priests, on the Catholic campus near 84 Street and 98 Avenue. The campus is also home to The Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton, Newman Theological College and St. Joseph Seminary.

COVID-19 symptoms were first detected at the Villa Vianney on Jan. 5 and the facility went into lockdown with residents isolated in their individual rooms.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese said, as of Tuesday, six residents of Villa Vianney had been infected with COVID-19. Three had tested positive and were self-isolating, two had recovered, and one — McCaffery — had passed away.

“The Archdiocese has been working closely with Alberta Health Services regarding the safety and health of the residents at the Villa Vianney,” the statement reads.

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Catholic Social Services also said McCaffery passed away Monday evening “due to complications related to COVID-19.”

“Father Mike was beloved by all who knew him,” said Troy Davies, CEO of Catholic Social Services.

“Father Mike’s congeniality, his commitment to the vulnerable, and his engagement in being the hands and feet of the Christ-the-Servant are all marks of the life of this truly exceptional human being. We are all better for having known him, and having been a part of his life,” Davies said.

McCaffery was honoured with the Alberta Order of Excellence in 2005.

On its website, the provincial government describes Father McCaffery as “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.”

Funeral arrangements have not yet been determined.


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