‘Of the people’: Former St. Paul priest dies after contracting infection

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Father Michael Byron eschewed sitting in a chair on the predella while presiding at mass at Pax Christi Catholic Church in Eden Prairie.

Instead, Byron sat in a pew with the congregation.

“He would go up to the altar when it called for it in the liturgy, but otherwise he was seated with the people,” said Carol Bishop, parish director at Pax Christi. “He was just really of the people. He felt strongly about the fact that ‘we’ are church. He felt strongly about the baptismal call of the people and that what really bound us together as a community was that shared call.”

Byron died of an infection May 20 at a hospital in Minneapolis, two days after returning home from a 10-day pilgrimage to Greece, Bishop said. He was 62.

From 2012 to 2018, Byron served the Church of St. Pascal Baylon on St. Paul’s East Side. Prior to that, he served the Church of St. Cecilia in St. Paul for eight years.

Byron, who went by “Father Mike,” had a gift for making the Gospel relevant to people, said Marie Grimm, a longtime member of St. Pascal Baylon. “He spoke directly to us and talked about how to apply the gospel to our lives,” she said. “He didn’t come from some big castle up above. He wanted to be part of us, and he really was.”

Byron also was known for his incredible Irish tenor singing voice, Grimm said. “He actively took part in the singing part of services. At funerals, he would sing people right into heaven.”

Byron’s homilies, which he would write by hand on a legal pad, “almost always had a story that would connect to his message,” said Bishop, who knew Byron for more than 30 years. “It was always relatable. One of our parishioners said Father Mike was a pastoral theologian whose preaching pronoun was ‘we.’ I think that captures it so well. He wasn’t preaching at people.”

Byron strongly supported the Pax Christi’s lay leadership, Bishop said. In community council meetings, Byron “would always be the last to talk,” she said. “He wanted to hear from others first. He always wanted to make sure that he wasn’t influencing the conversation and that the people’s voice was really being heard.”

Byron presided at Bishop’s wedding, presided at her husband’s funeral and administered last rites to her father, Bishop said, so when he called and asked her to come work at Pax Christi a year and a half ago, she didn’t hesitate. “It might as well have been Jesus calling the Apostles because I was just ready to drop and go, whatever he needed,” she said.

“Mike wasn’t one to work the room,” Bishop wrote in an email to parishioners. “You couldn’t describe him as gregarious. His gift came in one-on-one encounters. If you had that beautiful opportunity for him to be present to you, it was something you didn’t forget. He has touched so many people with his personal warmth, humility, insight, intellect, beautiful voice and wry Irish humor.”

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Byron, the eldest of six siblings, grew up in Edina and graduated from St. John’s University, the St. Paul Seminary and the Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass., where he received his doctorate in theology.

According to his obituary, his love of learning led him to teach at the Academy of Holy Angels, St. John’s University, St. Catherine University and the St. Paul Seminary.

In addition to Pax Christi, the Church of St. Pascal Baylon and the Church of St. Cecilia, Byron also served the Church of the Assumption in Richfield and St. Olaf Catholic Church in Minneapolis.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be 11 a.m. Thursday at Pax Christi, with visitation from 9 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. The mass will be livestreamed at paxchristi.com.

Washburn McReavy Edina Chapel is in charge of arrangements.