Msgr. John Arnold Mihan, the educational leader who served Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for decades, died Dec. 26. He was 83.

Msgr. Mihan was the son of Arnold and Virginia (O’Reilly) Mihan. Raised in Los Angeles, he found his calling to be a priest while attending St. Brendan School and being an altar boy to Cardinal James Francis McIntrye.  

He attended St. John’s Seminary and was ordained April 30, 1959. Following his ordination he attended Catholic University in Washington D.C. where he received a Ph.D. in education.

Father Mihan returned to Los Angeles to the job of assistant superintendent of archdiocesan schools. Five years later he was appointed superintendent of elementary schools for the archdiocese, which he would head until 1986.

Father Mihan was an educational leader, administrator, visionary and molder of one of the largest Catholic school systems in the United States. He was a mentor and motivator of all the schools and to those who made them tick. During this time he also earned his MBA from UCLA.

In 1974, at the age of 41, Father Mihan was elevated to Chaplain to His Holiness, a monsignor, and in 1978 he was elevated to a Prelate of Honor.

In 1987, Msgr. Mihan took a year-and-a-half sabbatical to Rome. Upon his return he became the pastor at Corpus Christi Church in Pacific Palisades for the next 12 years. He retired in 2000.

Jack, as he was known by family and friends, enjoyed photography, hiking in the national parks, road biking and telling his famously corny but always funny, jokes.

His niece Kathleen Macker tells of the love this priest of “simple tastes” also had for fast bicycles and motorcycles. He “secretly” rode a motorcycle, which he kept at his niece’s home for many years.

“He didn’t want the parishioners to know because he thought it would be a bad example to see the pastor riding around on this big motorcycle,” Macker jokes.

This love was almost the death of Msgr. Mihan, who was hit by a car in the 1970s on a bicycle ride near Playa del Rey. He spent several months recuperating at the home of his mother.

“I don’t know how he ever survived, he practically broke most of the bones in his body. We said he had many lives. We don’t know how he kept on coming back, he was sort of like a cat,” said Macker.

Maybe his own “nine lives” is what brought Msgr. Mihan to rescue a mother cat and kittens he discovered under the rectory at Corpus Christi.

“He hand-fed them and adopted them, naming one of them ‘Mommy’ and the other ‘Clare’ after his wild Aunt Clare. He just adored these cats, they were like his children,” Macker said.

That same attention and care, of course, extended to everyone who spoke with him. A man of quiet and humble demeanor, he never sought to be the center of attention in a room, but “he was very caring and very interested in who you were,” said Macker. “He was always interested in who you are and who the people important to you were and how they were doing.”

He was recently preceded in death by his only brother, Dr. Richard Mihan, with whom he lived out the last few years of his life at the St. John of God Retirement and Care Center. He went by wheelchair to visit his brother several times a day and joke about their plans to escape to Paris.

He is survived by his only sister, Nancy M. Kelsey. Msgr. Mihan also leaves behind a niece, nephews and many great-nephews and great-nieces.

A funeral Mass for Msgr. Mihan will be held at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 13 at St. Brendan Church, located at 310 Van Ness Ave., Los Angeles, with a reception to follow.