Award-winning pastor in Savage makes school presence a priority

| Anthony Gockowski | March 23, 2015 | 0 Comments
Father Michael Tix, pastor of St. John the Baptist in Savage, reads to fifth-graders at St. John the Baptist School. Photo courtesy of St. John the Baptist

Father Michael Tix, pastor of St. John the Baptist in Savage, reads to fifth-graders at St. John the Baptist School. Photo courtesy St. John the Baptist

On a recent Tuesday, Father Michael Tix walked through the quiet hallways of St. John the Baptist School in Savage, greeting students by name between periods and talking with teachers during the lunch hour.

He made his way down a long corridor connecting the parish church, where students sat quietly in prayer as they prepared for their next class.

“We keep it quiet. It’s focused,” Father Tix said.

The architectural design reflects the intimate connection between the spiritual and intellectual lives, he noted. “The church becomes the classroom.”

Father Tix’s pastoral approach to Catholic education is part of the reason the National Catholic Educational Association has named him a recipient of its Distinguished Pastor Award, which he will receive April 7 at the organization’s annual convention in Orlando, Fla. He is one of 12 pastors in the United States selected to receive the award this year.

He sees St. John the Baptist School as a model of Catholic education in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. “He believes the school is truly a legacy of the parish,” said Cheri Gardner, director of education at St. John the Baptist.

It is at St. John the Baptist that Father Tix began his priestly ministry. Now, two decades later, he has returned to his old friends, including Gardner, who nominated Father Tix for the NCEA award.

“It was a big surprise,” Father Tix said. “She [Gardner] told me about it after she pressed ‘send.’ I never really thought much would come of it.”

Visible presence

Gardner’s nomination makes clear that Father Tix is committed to Catholic education, and being part of that work.

“Father Mike will often call on students by name or refer to them by name when noting a good example to share with the community. He is visible in the hallways, classrooms and lunchroom,” Gardner wrote.

Father Tix’s involvement doesn’t end with the school day, she added.

“You will find Father Mike at school plays, band and choral concerts, retreats and athletic events. In addition, he participates in school community building and fundraising events such as the Marathon for Nonpublic Education and the annual school Mission Carnival,” Gardner wrote.

But Father Tix acknowledged leading a school and a parish isn’t easy.

“I liken it to doing triage in an emergency room,” he said. “Some days you’ll do exactly what you planned, others none of it.”

Prayer, he said, gives him a sense of peace as he navigates a busy, ever-changing schedule. So does getting out of the office.

“We need to serve as Jesus served,” said Father Tix, who also serves as a school chaplain at Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield, “but sometimes just to clear my head I say: It’s time to go for a drive.”

St. John the Baptist is home to 500 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and staffed by 31 teachers.

“We’ve been working together since he started,” said Gardner, who won a NCEA distinguished principal award in 1998.  “We both bleed Catholic education.”

Rural roots

Father Tix grew up in Hampton, a small farming community on the edge of Hastings. The lessons he learned there would become a reference point for his later study of Scripture and theology.

“The key is planting the seed,” he said. “God provides the rest. Our part is planting.”

In Hampton, Father Tix attended St. Mathias Church, whose patron became a spiritual role model for Father Tix’s priesthood.

“He was the 13th apostle. He was chosen for nothing but serving,” Father Tix said. “He did it in ways that were not noticed. All we know is that he was chosen.”

After leaving Hampton, Father Tix earned a degree in agribusiness at Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount, which has helped him in the administrative work of his parish. His business background also bears fruit in evangelization efforts, he said.

“No matter what field you’re in, you have to be able to present the product, if you will,” he added.

He also puts his degree to work in overseeing parish finances.

“Financial support for the school is one of Father Mike’s top priorities. He puts a lot of time and energy into securing the necessary funds needed for the school,” Gardner mentioned when nominating Father Tix. “Father Mike works tirelessly to engage former school families, alumni, and other benefactors to actively contribute annual scholarships to assist families qualifying for financial assistance.”

After attending Dakota County Technical College, Father Tix knew he was looking for something more. He entered the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity and was ordained with five other men in 1992.

After two years at St. John the Baptist and a year at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Father Tix was assigned to Assumption in Richfield. With a recently completed school merger to form Blessed Trinity School and a growing Hispanic population, Father Tix faced many challenges. So he picked up his book of ecclesiastical Spanish and began studying. A short while later, the parish offered weekly Sunday masses in Spanish.

“Opportunities for the kids really opened up when the Mass was in their language,” he said.

While serving as pastor at Church of the Assumption, Father Tix became chaplain of nearby Academy of Holy Angels. He wanted to be able to understand the educational system, he explained.

It’s a role he continues today. Many of his students at St. John the Baptist go on to Holy Angels for their high school education.

“I’m running into students at Holy Angels I had here,” he said. “Next thing you know I’m doing weddings and baptisms.”

After several years at Assumption, Father Tix was excited to return to St. John the Baptist in 2004.

“He is always there for us and he takes the time to connect with the administration, faculty, staff, and students,” Gardner said.

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