Friday morning May 20 in Lewiston Idaho, I was devastated and deeply saddened when I read an email to the clergy of our archdiocese informing us that Fr. Michael Byron had died early that morning.
When Fr Mike was assigned to St Pascal's 9 years ago, I reached out to welcome him and to arrange a lunch meeting so we could get to know each other. We met at the Black Dog Cafe in downtown St Paul. Upon first meeting him I knew we would work well together, he was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. Our lunch was pleasant and we talked about many things, and we found out that our views on ministering to the people of God and Vatican II were in harmony.
During his 6 years at St Pascal's, I enjoyed celebrating Mass with him, both parish and school Masses. His relaxed yet reverent style of celebration was wonderful and made being the Deacon for liturgies a very fulfilling time. Of course, his beautiful singing was even better when one was right beside him. No matter what happened, we both had the attitude of not making a big deal of it and continuing on as if that was the way it was supposed to be. I remember one Pentecost weekend we dressed in our nice matching gold and white vestments. Saturday night mass went wonderfully. On Sunday morning at the 8:45 Mass Fr Mike leaned over to me and said "there are a lot of people wearing red out there". We both broke out laughing and simply finished up Mass as we were and Fr Mike made light of it at the end of Mass. When he would return to St Pascal’s, usually for a school Mass, we would both comment how nice it was to be able to celebrate the Mass together.
I enjoyed Fr Mike's homilies as I know many others did. He could always find a fresh and unusual twist to the scriptures. Every once in a while his theologian would creep in and take you deep into the weeds but that was the exception and the vast majority of his homilies would hit home and stay with you during the week. I do remember one school Mass, for the feast of St Francis of Assisi, he started with a wonderful homily then ended with a dissertation on the stigmata. When he finished, he sat down and said to me "I can't believe I just talked about the stigmata to school kids". We would joke about that for the years to come. Of the many homilies he preached, the one that always comes to mind is his homily on the dangerous waters of Baptism which started with the story of a young boy falling into a baptismal font.
Teaching was his lifeblood and after leaving the seminary staff at St Thomas he continued to teach. We at St Pascal’s were blessed to have him give many nights of reflection and talks. He would teach summer classes in Collegeville, and more recently had been co-teaching a class at St Catherine's with St Pascal’s parishioner Anne Weyandt. Here is a link from our YouTube channel of an Advent Night of Reflection Fr. Mike did here at St Pascal’s.
Like the rest of the St Pascal's staff, I enjoyed Fr Mike's hands-off approach to allowing people to do their job. For me in particular, he was very supportive of my ever-changing schedule with family and work. Even after I retired, he was very flexible in adapting to my even more crazy and unpredictable schedule.
In talking to people about Fr Mike a common theme everybody refers to is how he was a priest that lived and promoted the teachings of Vatican II. He believed in the priesthood of believers and empowering the laity to exercise that priesthood in so many ways. I could go on but I will let Fr Mike speak for himself in this recent prophetic YouTube post from Pax Christi.
I know that he was apprehensive about taking a full-time parish assignment but quickly came to love his role at St Pascal's and most especially being involved in the spiritual and personal lives of parishioners. When he was asked by the Archbishop to leave St Pascal’s to be the pastor of Pax Christi after only 6 years here he was very sad and upset to leave our community.
The last time I saw Fr Mike was at Rosella Cockriel's funeral where he presided and I was the Deacon of the Mass. It was a wonderful celebration and hearing him sing the verses of “The Hand of God Shall Hold You” as he had so many times for funerals at St Pascal’s was beautiful and inspiring. I was so happy we sang that song at the Evening Prayer in memory of Fr Mike Tuesday night. As we were talking that day, he as a very gifted writer, gave me a compliment I will hold dearly. Fr Mike mentioned that he had been reading my blogs and had enjoyed them immensely.
There have been so many wonderful articles about Fr. Mike in the days after his death. I think this article in the Eden Prairie Local News does a wonderful job of capturing the collective thoughts and sentiments.
Today we will celebrate Fr Mike's funeral and it will be a sad and hard day. As Fr John said during his wonderful homily the weekend after Fr Mike’s death, nothing can separate us from the Love of God and Jesus offers us a gift of peace, the peace of his own love and presence and mercy in the midst of so much sadness. Our faith in the promises of eternal life with God gives us hope that we will be reunited with those that have gone before us. I will miss Fr. Mike's physical presence here on earth but know his spirit is with us and that we will join him immersed in God's eternal Love.
Peace, Love, and Blessings