The University of St. Thomas

Get to Know a Professor:
Fr. J. Michael Byron

Get to Know a Professor:
Fr. J. Michael Byron

How long have you been teaching in the lay graduate programs?

I have been teaching courses in the lay graduate programs, specifically MARE and MAT since January of 2001.  Most recently, in the Fall 2008 semester I taught the course, Christian Theology of God, one of the core courses in the MAT program.  This was at least my fourth time through that course, and I very much enjoyed it.  In the past I have taught courses in the theology of the church for both MAT and MARE, as well as some elective courses for the MAT, like Christ and the Religions, Theology Since Vatican II, and Theological Masters.  I have also taught a variety of courses in the M.Div. program, primarily to seminarians. 

 

Fr. J. Michael Byron

  

  

 

 

How does teaching at the seminary complement your vocation as a priest?

I don’t consider my career as a teacher to be “secondary” to my vocation as a priest. Rather, teaching is the primary way that I live out my vocation at this moment in time.  I was told by a wise priest when I was ordained that whatever it was that I was planning on doing in priesthood in twenty years was certainly not what I’d end up doing. Last spring marked 20 years for me, and I have certainly found that to have been accurate advice.  For the past five years I have served as pastor of St. Cecilia’s Parish here in St. Paul, which has been a wonderful complement to the “theory” that I put forth in the classroom.  My first passion is pastoral ministry, although I don’t see that as antithetical to scholarly research and theological study.

 

Have the students changed in your time as a professor?

In my years of teaching I guess I’ve been surprised mostly by the realization that I am now a generation older than most of the students I teach, and we think about things differently.  There aren’t a lot of overt “Wow!” experiences in the classroom in terms of unexpected perspectives, but there’s no question that the composition of the student body here has changed significantly since I was a seminarian.  I was a student here during the first decade of Pope John Paul II, and although his influence was significant even then, he went on to become a Catholic cultural icon in a way that no other pope ever was in my lifetime.  His influence had the effect of creating a much more papal-centered style of doing theology, and that has continued even years after his death.  Today it is much more immediate for students to want to know “what the Church thinks” about theological questions (by which they mean the pope) than to want to do speculative inquiry.

 

What are your areas of theological specialty?

I don’t consider myself to be a theological specialist, other than to locate my areas of interest under the general heading of “systematic theology.”  I have a great interest in addressing questions of the relationship between Catholic theology and culture, because I want the Church to be able to articulate a coherent and persuasive vision to a world that is ever in need to finding its way forward.  We live simultaneously as baptized Catholics and as citizens of 21st century America, and these are mutually informative and ambiguous relationships.  For me, a theology that doesn’t speak positively and meaningfully to the real world in which people live is, by that very fact, inadequate.

 

Where did you receive your theological instruction?

I received my B.A. degree at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, in economics, and I worked for U.S. Bank for a few years before entering the seminary.  I did my M.Div. here at The Saint Paul Seminary.  My licentiate and my doctorate degrees in sacred theology were earned at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which has this year been consolidated into the Boston College School of Ministry and Theology.  Mine are pontifical degrees (S.T.L. and S.T.D.) rather than strictly academic degrees (Ph.D).

 

What are some hobbies you enjoy?

I enjoy music.  I have been a singer all my life and I play a bit of piano.  I enjoy biking, walking, reading, and being with good friends.

 

What is your greatest joy as a priest teaching theology?

My greatest joy in “priest-ing” and in teaching is watching the progress of students and religious seekers, particularly the young.  I spent three years as a full time teacher of religion at Academy of Holy Angels early in my priesthood, and to see those “kids” grow into adults (most of them are around 30 years old now) has been an amazing blessing.   Many of them have made plenty of bad mistakes in the maturing process, but many have emerged into incredible adults who are a source of constant joy to me.  To be accorded the honor of being allowed to matter in the lives of students and parishioners is beyond my ability to tell.

 

Any favorite books you’d like to recommend to our community?

I’d recommend I Believe in the Holy Spirit, by Yves Congar. This is an excellent book for anyone interested in the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Church. Written by one of the most prominent theologians of Vatican II, it is a magnum opus of an outstanding theologian and a holy cardinal of the Church.