Stumbling out of bed to get to the 7:30 a.m. daily Mass at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Stillwater, parishioner Margaret Nelson expected a normal day. But upon walking through the doors of the church, something was different.
Photographers were there. Archbishop Bernard Hebda and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Williams were present. And her pastor, Fr. Michael John Izen, was wearing a red hat?
The evidence piled up.
Izen had been appointed auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis at 5 a.m. that morning and was celebrating his first Mass with parishioners, friends, and family.
It was just a few months prior that Nelson and her husband, Bowdrie Nelson, a recent convert to Catholicism, had joined the the Churches of St. Michael and St. Mary’s. Izen welcomed them with open arms.
“He’s such a witness of a true pastor. He has a joy and simplicity about him,” Margaret said of Izen, a Saint Paul Seminary alumnus. “That moment of being at the mass filled me with so much desire to ask what is it I’m called to give God. What Fr. Izen is saying yes to made me look at my own life. And I was filled with a great gratitude of these witnesses that awake in my soul what we’re really made for.”
And for Bowdrie, who entered the Church last Easter, his first Catholic pastor is now becoming a bishop.
“Fr. Izen always remembered my name, which is cool because before I was Catholic I didn’t know many priests,” Bowdrie said. “We developed a connection that made me feel included in our parish.”
The intentional practice of learning names was a simple act that represented a bigger theme. According to his past parishioners, Izen is present and invested wherever he serves. Whether it playing in the weekly parish men’s basketball game, high-fiving children as they walk into St. Croix Catholic Elementary School in Stillwater every day, or watching the Vikings game at a parishioner’s house, he is always present.
“He was an amazing pastor,” said Sam Nelson (no relation to Margaret and Bowdrie) who has been a parishioner at the Churches of St. Michael and St. Mary for more than 7 years. “Early in his time here, he said he would probably ask us 10 times what our names were — because he wanted to learn everyone’s name in the parish, and he did.”
Izen’s humble and joyful personality also translates to the way he celebrates Mass — with simplicity and reverence.
“His quiet, humble, and affable demeanor makes him approachable and a true shepherd,” Fr. Paul Hedman said. “His homilies speak the truth strongly and firmly, yet also with gentleness.”
Hedman was a parishioner at the Church of St. Raphael in Crystal and believes it’s no coincidence why God put both of them in the same place and at the same time.
“It was when I was back home from my freshman year in college over Christmas break in 2012 where I heard Jesus’ voice in my heart calling me to the priesthood as Fr. Izen elevated the host after the consecration,” Hedman said. “He was always very involved and everyone felt his love. He’d play pool with the youth group, basketball with the school kids, and always has a joy about him that lets you feel the love of Christ he feels and wants to share with everyone.”
Hedman attended Saint John Vianney College Seminary and finished his studies at The Saint Paul Seminary. He was ordained a priest in 2020 for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. Hedman currently serves as associate pastor of the Church and School of St. Peter in Forest Lake, Minnesota.
“It’s always been in my mind that he’d be a wonderful bishop, but I never really expected it would actually happen!” Hedman said.