A second-vocation priest, Fr. Michael McLain will be remembered for his kindness, love for children and pizza-based ministry.
The 65-year-old parochial administrator of Nativity of Our Lord Parish and School, Rhinelander, died Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015, at Ministry St. Mary’s Hospital, Rhinelander, after suffering massive bleeding on the brain. He had also been diagnosed with liver cancer a few weeks earlier, according to Deb Lieberg, chancellor of the Diocese of Superior.
Fr. McLain began his service with the Rhinelander parish in July. Prior to his work there, he was the parochial administrator and pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish and School, Merrill, and St. John the Baptist, Bloomville, for five years. He also spent two years as parochial administrator of the Mellen cluster after his ordination in 2008.
Fr. McLain was born Nov. 21, 1950, to Robert and Charlotte (Durley) McLain, in Evergreen Park, Illinois. He grew up in a poor, ethnic neighborhood in Southside Chicago, where as a child he learned to make the thin-crust pizza that would become his trademark.
He graduated from Little Flower High School in 1968 and served two years in the U.S. Army. He married Christine McDermott Dec. 3, 1971, in Evergreen Park.
The couple lived in Kansas City, Missouri, with their son, Michael, and daughter, Tina, while the future priest worked as a traveling salesman, insurance salesman and waiter.
After Christine’s death in 2001, Fr. McLain felt called to the priesthood. He entered the Sacred Heart Seminary, Hales Corners, in 2003, earning a bachelor’s degree from Cardinal Stritch University and a Master of Divinity from Sacred Heart School of Theology.
Accepted into the Diocese of Superior in 2002, Fr. McLain was ordained a transitional deacon by the late Bishop Raphael Fliss and ordained a priest by former Diocese of Superior Bishop Peter Christensen, now of the Diocese of Boise, Idaho.
In addition to his parish service, Fr. McLain was a chaplain for and 3rd- and 4th-degree member of the Knights of Columbus, and member of the Merrill V.F.W. Post 1638.
Fr. McLain’s most memorable quotes include, “Carpe Diem: Seize the Day!”; “Life is short, eat dessert first”; and “Life is about food and relationships.” He loved making pizzas and was well-known for his flavored popcorn.
“I am very sad to hear of Fr. Mike’s passing; he was an amazing man and priest,” Samantha (Herbst) Nelson, of Memphis, Tennessee, said. “I remember him from his time as a transitional deacon in Osceola and more recently when I was in Merrill on the Totus Tuus team in 2012.
“Fr. Mike and I bonded over our love for making pizza and popcorn,” she added. “I know his passing is a great loss, and his family, friends, parish and school will be in my prayers! What an amazing soul!”
“He cooked pizza for our families,” said Brad Kowieski, parishioner at Nativity, Rhinelander. “The impact on the kids was substantial in the short amount of time that we had.”
Fr. McLain will be remembered for his quick wit, puns, love of music (especially the drums), sense of humor and loving heart. Most of all, he will be remembered for his strong faith, his loving ways and interaction with the schoolchildren – especially his high-fives and his dog, Harley.
He is survived by his children, Michael P. McLain, of Franklin, and Tina McLain, of University Place, Washington; brother Timothy (Dallys) McLain of Sycamore, Illinois; and twin sister Mary Jane Martin, of Pembroke, Georgia. Also surviving are nieces, nephews, other relatives and many friends.
Fr. McLain was preceded in death by his parents; his wife, Christine; and one brother, James.
Hundreds attended a Mass of Christian Burial celebrated by Bishop Christensen Dec. 7 at Nativity of Our Lord, Rhinelander.
Interment was in the veterans’ section of the St. Francis Xavier Cemetery, Merrill.