It is a casual dress day at the Catholic high school nestled amid the back streets of Rock Island. The halls are filled with T-shirt-wearing teens. A fundraising project has earned them a day's respite from the school's dress code.
There is a theme with the day's chosen T-shirts. They read: "Father's Flock," across the front, and that Father is the Rev. Daniel Mirabelli, and his flock is thousands strong.
Sunday, Rev. Mirabelli, 79, will celebrate 50 years in the priesthood and 44 years of service to Alleman Catholic High School. Alumni and friends are invited to a reception from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Believers Together Center, Christ the King Parish, 3205 60th St., Moline.
With respect to the path Rev. Mirabelli chose five decades ago, he is more than a religious and spiritual leader to those he serves. He is director of development, the school's No. 1 fan, its biggest booster, the man asked to officiate "Alleman" weddings, serve "Alleman" funerals and handle "Alleman" baptisms. He is the man many want to share joyous occasions with and seek guidance from in times of strife.
"Father Mirabelli is Alleman," said Mark Johnson, CEO of the Champaign, Ill., County YMCA, a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling squad, longtime head wresting coach at the University of Illinois, and a 1973 Alleman graduate. "I love the man; he's my guy. But so does everyone who ever stepped foot in Alleman, met him through church or sent their children to Alleman. He might be the most loved man in the community."
A Chicago native, Rev. Mirabelli is shy of the spot light. He entered the Clerics of St. Viator (Viatorians) in January 1951. After finishing his education and ordination, he came to Alleman in June 1966, beginning his tenure as business manager and teacher. He taught courses in social studies, religion, English and Latin at the high school. In 1991, he was appointed development director. He's served as the school's ticket and bookstore manager and the booster club moderator. On weekends, he assists with masses at many parishes but currently serves at Moline's at Christ the King.
"I have greatly enjoyed my time at Alleman." said Rev. Mirabelli.
"I'm very blessed and very grateful because of the Viatorians who I had in my training. There truly is something spiritual about being a Viatorian. I first saw that when I was a student at Fenwick High School. I knew I wanted to live by their motto: 'Let the children come to me be the focus of my life.' It's important to remember that we are here to serve, not be served."
Those who know Rev. Mirabelli believe his affection for those he serves and his humility are what has endeared him to thousands.
"He has touched lives through his teaching, development work and priestly duties," Debbie Johnson Schwiebert, a 1970 Alleman grad said of Rev. Mirabelli. " He is an example of committed love in action. His love of the church, his caring manner, the way he lives the Gospel values and his devotion to Alleman High School is apparent in every single thing he says and does."
Lindsay Burkhead was a star athlete at Alleman, an energetic and personable young woman. She died in 2004, at age 22, leaving an Alleman family working to understand life's deepest mysteries. Maribeth, Lyndsay Burkhead's mother, says Rev. Mirabelli helped her family cope.
"Father Mirabelli has been a huge source of comfort for my family," said Mrs. Burkhead, a 1977 Alleman graduate who teaches English at the school. "He has known my husband, Jim (a 1977 Alleman grad), and I for over 30 years, and he has watched our four children pass through the doors of Alleman. He was truly touched by the loss of Lindsay, and his heart hurt for our whole family. That was extremely evident. He never offered platitudes, only the gift of comfort and understanding. He is a man that truly makes you 'feel your faith' even at a time when your faith is shaken. He has a way of touching your soul with a touch, hug, handshake or a smile. I am not sure that there is a man that has a bigger heart and oftentimes wears it on his sleeve. You see this when he speaks of his beloved Alleman and when one of his students is in need."
Kevin Rafferty, a 1981 Alleman graduate and the father of 2010 Alleman grad Patrick Rafferty, owns Rafferty Funeral Home, Moline, along with his father Larry Rafferty, one of the founders of Alleman's feeder-system football program. Kevin Rafferty says Rev. Mirabelli's genuine nature has allowed him stand the test of time, to bridge cultures, blend personalities and stay in tune with the young people of yesterday and today.
"Father Mirabelli still commands the same presence now as he did when I walked the halls prior to graduating in 1981," Kevin Rafferty said. "He does so by showing respect and certainly getting it in return. As a child I would walk in the commons area with my dad. Father Mirabelli, who I thought lived at the school, would shower me with candy or more importantly an Alleman Pioneer shirt. He continues that tradition today spoiling my three sons and especially my 7-year old daughter, Annie, who knows to go directly to Father at his bookstore. The 'Little Ole Priest' hasn't changed, thank God."
Mike Tracey, athletic director at United Township High School and an IHSA Hall of Fame football coach, also holds the distinction of being the winningest football coach in Alleman history. Other than his own father, Mr. Tracey says, Rev. Mirabelli is the most influential man in his life.
"Father is the most humble, self-deprecating, and giving man I know," said Mr. Tracey, who twice led the Pioneers to state championship games.
"His concern and care for literally thousands of others is his true legacy. I know of no one who has made a stronger, more positive, and lasting impression on those around him. His example of living an honest, principled, Christian life influenced me to try to be better at whatever I did. I tried not to disappoint him."
One of Rev. Mirabelli's passions is sports. He can be seen at Alleman athletic events rooting for members of his flock, regardless of sport — female or male. He offers mass every Friday at 7:20 a.m. for the sophomore football squad and at 3:10 p.m. for the varsity players and coaches.
"His messages and lessons during the team pre-game football Masses were the highlights of my time at Alleman," Mr. Tracey said. "He was unique because in one breath he could tell you to shake your dad's hand and hug your mother and tell them both you love them, and in the next breath, exhort a 160-pound lineman to knock down a 240-pound defensive tackle."
For fun, Mr. Tracey says he will occasionally bring up one of the two unsportsmanlike flags he has received in his coaching tenure. It came thanks to Rev. Mirabelli.
"Many people think I got tons of flags," Mr. Tracey said. " I received two." One, the coach caught after walking onto the field after he incorrectly thought he was approved to do so by a referee.
"(And the other was) at Galesburg (High School). Father was stalking the sidelines as he likes to do. He also likes to officiate a little when he thinks his boys are not getting a fair shake. During this game, Father was consistently upset. An official came over and said 'Coach, if you can't control your sideline, I'm going to have to flag you.' I said, 'Father, give me a break.' He apologized profusely. Three plays later, Father detected a holding penalty that the officials missed. He let them know about it. I got the yellow flag thrown at me. The official was laughing when he tossed it. I was mad, but laughing inside because now I knew I had something to hang over Father's head. To this day, he'll never live that one down."
At an age where most are retired and enjoying a slower pace, Rev. Mirabelli says there is no slow in him.
"I was only supposed to be at Alleman two years," said Rev. Mirabelli.
"How fortunate I am to be here 44 years and to be a priest 50 years. This is my home. I'm from Chicago, but this is my home. I have expressed to (business manager and head football coach) Dave DeJaegher my wishes after I have passed on. I want to be cremated, and I want a corner area — of the brick wall where the cafeteria is — for me to rest. Just build me an area where I can watch football practice every day. What a blessing that would be."
The same blessing that sent the "Little Ole Priest" a grateful community's way.
Rev. Daniel Mirabelli's honors and accolades
Fenwick High School, Oak Park, Ill., graduate 1950.
Entered Clerics of St. Viator (Viatorians) in January 1951.
Became a Viatorian Novitiate in 1951.
Entered St. Ambrose College in January 1952; graduated 1955 with a bachelor's degree in history.
Taught at Spalding High School in Peoria for three semesters.
Entered the Viatorian Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill., in 1956.
Earned a master's degree in history from Loyola University and master's degree in sacred theology from the Viatorian Seminary in 1960.
Ordained in 1960.
Taught at St. Benedict's in Chicago and attended DePaul University for coursework in pastoral counseling.
Came to Alleman in 1966, beginning his tenure as business manager and teacher.
Received Teacher of the Year honors from the National Honor Society at Alleman High School 1989.
Appointed Alleman's development director in 1991.
Presented with the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal from Pope John Paul II in 1993.
Received the Sandy Ninninger Award from Kiwanis International in 1995.
Inducted into the Alleman Athletic Hall of Fame in 1996.
Received an Honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from St. Ambrose University in May 2004.
Honored as Citizen of the Year for the city of Rock Island in 2007.
Today is Saturday, Aug. 30, the 242nd day of 2014. There are 123 days left in the year.
1864 — 150 years ago: A large pair of elk, captured in Iowa, were exhibited in Market Square today. 1889 — 125 years ago: The Rock Island Arsenal dam was being constructed under the supervision of Charles Frances, of Lowell, Mass. 1914 — 100 years ago: Mrs. Frank Mixer, of Rock Island, was the winner of the final preliminary for the women's handicap golf cup at Rock Island arsenal links. 1939 — 75 years ago: Sixteen hundred persons — many from war-fearful Europe — arrived in New York aboard the German liner Bremen. For two days on the trip, passengers were cut off from the world with both incoming and outgoing radio messages banned. 1964 — 50 years ago: Police reported five youths have been involved in the theft of about seven cars in recent weeks. Three of the youths were arrested Saturday afternoon, one was in custody as the result of a previous arrest, and the fifth is expected to be arrested today. 1989 — 25 years ago: The Rock Island/Milan School Board is asking the city to tear down Franklin School and allow the school district to pay back the estimated $100,00 cost during 10 years.