By Tony Rossi
Arthur Mirell’s love for Jesus originated with free hot dogs, a carnival and a friendly priest. As recalled by his longtime friend, Sister Ave Clark, O.P., during an interview with me for The Christophers’ radio show, Arthur was a young Jewish boy in Brooklyn, when he was walking by a church one day. The parish priest invited Arthur and some other children to come enjoy a carnival the church was having. The other kids quickly accepted the invitation, but Arthur just stood there and responded, “I’m not Catholic.”
The priest said, “That doesn’t matter. There’s hot dogs and fun.”
That simple welcoming attitude made an impression on Arthur, prompting him to further explore the Catholic faith. Though he always maintained a love for his Jewish heritage, he eventually converted to Catholicism. “He loved to go sit in church quietly,” said Sister Ave. “He said he would just look up at the cross and feel Jesus comforting him on his journey with his own cross.”
That cross was the mental illness schizophrenia. Arthur read about the disease, said Sister Ave, “and he realized that this would be a lifelong journey. He took his medication. At times, it would help. Other times, it would make him feel weary.” Schizophrenia manifested itself in Arthur mostly through fragmented thoughts.
Sometimes people made fun of Arthur because of this tendency, but he would never get angry. Sister Ave said, “Sometimes someone has hurt us, and we want to ignore the person. Arthur forgave them … He said, ‘If I hold onto the hurt, I become it.’ That struck me as (the) radical kindness that we are asked to be.”
Later in life, instances of people insulting Arthur didn’t happen frequently, especially when he joined Brooklyn’s St. Jude parish. Sister Ave said, “I think people sensed Arthur’s goodness. They understood that he had differences mentally, but they always welcomed him.”
Sister Ave first got to know Arthur more than 15 years ago when he attended an evening of prayer she was holding at a Brooklyn church. They started talking by phone every day until his death last year. It was Arthur’s passing that prompted Sister Ave to write a moving and profound book about her friend, called “Arthur, Thank You For Being Jesus’ Love.” His example, she believes, could be a benefit to us all on many levels: “He wasn’t Pollyanna about life. He understood that there were hardships. Sometimes he would be disappointed or hurt, but he didn’t let that control his life…He chose to have a good attitude.”
Sister Ave once told him that he was a missionary. He responded that he’d never been to a foreign country. But she explained, “You’re an ordinary missionary of everyday life.” She continued, “He’d wave at the garbage man, the mailman. Everybody knew him. I said, ‘Arthur, some day you will be like St. Therese. You’re going to live your heaven doing good on earth.’ I believe he is.”
Tony Rossi is the director of communications for The Christophers.