One resident, numerous anecdotes
Name: Father Tim Biren
Occupation: Catholic priest
Where we found him: Viola Gopher Count parade
We met at the Gopher Count parade, where we were both judges. You were the most popular person there. My parishes are in Eyota and St. Charles, and Viola is within parish boundaries, so many people in the parade are from my church. I have students who were in the marching band, in 4-H, on family floats. In fact, some of my confirmation students were dressed up as gophers. I’m thinking their grandmothers put them up to it.
Did you vote for the float that gave you the cheese curds? My vote was not tainted in any way—no matter how many koozies or curds or candy I got!
You recited the 4-H pledge with the 4-Hers. I grew up on a family farm and 4-H was a huge part of our family life. I still love going to the State Fair every year.
Where did you grow up? In southwest Minnesota, near the small town of Iona. I went to school in the small town of Fulda. I’m the second oldest of seven. In my family, we identify as the “four oldest” and the “three little” kids. We oldest have the tendency to think we had it most difficult—our curfew was more strict, more responsibilities—but I wouldn’t have it any other way. My parents raised us to be the best that we could be. They instilled in us this work ethic to always give our best effort, work diligently, finish our projects. We had responsibilities on the farm, at school, in extra-curriculars. I was on the basketball team. I had to practice the French horn for band.
Where did you go to school? My undergraduate degree is in music education from St. John’s University. I had a teaching job lined up, and I broke the contract to enter into the seminary. I’d had in the back of my mind that I needed to look at this possibility, and I didn’t want to go through life asking the “what if” questions. I started what was called pre-theology—two years of classes at St. Mary’s in Winona. Then I went to theology school at St. Mary of the Lake in a suburb of Chicago.
Do you get back to the farm? There is this unwritten rule that every Sunday afternoon, my mom will make a big meal, and it’s open invitation. I often return home for that. We’ve always been a close family.
Do you ever get nervous speaking in front of people? I actually enjoy it. I’m not fearful of getting in front of people, for the most part. I get nervous at funerals and weddings. Meeting people where they’re at is important to me—and, there, I’m entering into their lives at their best or their worst. I am an emotional person, very passionate. And as a result, it’s not uncommon if a tear wells up in my eye. I never make fun of it—I don’t say, “There’s dust in my eye.” That’s not my style. My style is to be human.
You must see people you know wherever you go. Do you feel pressure to be “on”? Self care is every important. All denominations have a shortage of clergy, and so it’s easy to get overextended. I recognize those moments when I need to take a break, and I get away. I take off one full day each week. I’ll visit my parents, my siblings. I like to entertain, so I’ll have friends over for dinner. I love to cook.
What’s your specialty? My cooking is what you’d typically find in rural Minnesota—what I’d consider comfort food, roast beef, carrots, corn.
You’ve been in southeastern Minnesota for a while now. Do you feel at home? After two years, I feel that I’m a local now. I’ll go out in Eyota or St. Charles, not because I’m hungry or I need anything, but because I want to meet them where they’re at. And they’ve really welcomed me into their community. There’s no religious barrier. I look at people as people, and don’t identify what church they go to or don’t go to. I just enjoy being around other people and experiencing the joy they radiate. So when tragedies happen, and we’ve been through some as a community, I’m able to move through those moments with them. This is where I belong. So I will continue to share as much as I can.
Biggest adventure? I love to travel. I’ve been to Rome seven times, Ireland five times. I went to China with friends who were adopting a baby. … Prior to going, I was hearing negative things in the news, about their government, about a Catholic priest being killed in Tiananmen Square. However, I was blown away by the kindness of the Chinese people. Every single one of the people I encountered was delightful, respectful, and polite. It really allowed me to see there’s always a bigger picture than we might be told.
Do you have a favorite band? I really enjoy the music from the ‘40s and ‘50s. As a musician, a favorite hobby is going to nursing homes and assisted livings and playing that music. … And I do a dueling piano show. I perform and sing in a public venture, not as a priest. Those songs are your typical fun songs you’d want to listen to on the boat or the beach or backyard—Neil Diamond to Elton John.
Favorite song to perform? Sweet Caroline—regardless of who you are or where you come from, it puts a smile on your face.