Former musician, relatively new Catholic, follows Christ into priesthood

| May 22, 2015 | 0 Comments
Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Byron Hagan’s self-described 10-year “journey of intellectual discovery” led him not only to join the Catholic Church, but also to seek to serve it as a priest.

The son of an Evangelical minister, he studied philosophy and theology “trying to find my place in Christianity,” Hagan said. “That path kept leading me closer and closer to the Catholic Church.”

He was received into the Church in 2006 (his two sisters followed him into the Church two years later) and shortly after began another journey that will culminate in his ordination as a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis May 30.

He grew up in upstate New York, the son of Morris and Wylodean Hagan, and pursued a career in music after high school. A pianist by profession, Hagan worked for years in Nashville and Los Angeles playing all kinds of music, he said.

Like others in the entertainment industry he confessed, “I had made an idol out of my career.”

Spending some time in St. Paul with a friend, he was impressed by the strength of the Catholic Studies program at the University of St. Thomas.

“By the time I moved to the Cities, priesthood was already on my heart,” Hagan said.

The priesthood wasn’t ready for him yet, however.

He had no college degree, so before he could enter the seminary he had to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Hagan majored in philosophy and Catholic Studies at St. Thomas, and, because he was older than traditional college-age men discerning the priesthood, a place was made for him to live at the Companions of Christ’s house near campus.

“I knew so little about priesthood in the concrete when I came into the Church,” Hagan said. “I began to realize the depth and beauty and seriousness of Catholicism . . . the bringing of redemption and light and curing us of sin.”

And he saw men who were good priests who were “putting flesh and blood on Christianity. The idea of priesthood began to take on a real attraction. I think that’s what’s at the heart of my vocation,” he said.

“I was taken by the way they were being priests and the way the ministry of the Gospel had completely defined them,” he added. “The priesthood had really made them into the men they had always desired to be — really living a vocation and not just engaged in a profession.”

Hagan spent five years at the St. Paul Seminary, completing two masters degrees. Having had a career before entering the seminary, he said the only people older than him in class typically were the professors. He’ll be ordained at age 45.

He credits people at his teaching parish, St. Vincent de Paul in Brooklyn Park, for helping him through challenges in learning to preach.

And, while he admires a number of living priests, he pointed to the late Jesuit Father John Hardon, writer of a popular post-Vatican II catechism and the Modern Catholic Dictionary, both major reference works, as a role model.

“He was a theologian and yet close to the people,” Hagan said. “That’s a model I find attractive and I’d like to emulate.”

During his seminary years, he said he has tried to keep up with his music and do a little composing as well. He enjoys contemporary classical music, jazz and American composers like Aaron Copeland and Phillip Glass, as well as Estonian Arvo Pärt, a modernist who Hagan said “has turned a lot of people on to sacred music.”

He added, “I haven’t given up music, just the profession of music.”

He described himself as “a Catholic Christian before I’m anything else” and said he’s come to priesthood “because I’m following Christ.”

Concerns about the priesthood that have made the news the past few years “are all the more reason for me to know why I’m doing what I’m doing,” Hagan said, “not to become a celebrated public figure, but to follow Christ — and not to expect an easier time than Christ had.”

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Category: Ordinations