A big-hearted priest with a "constant grin and twinkle in his eye," the Rev. Patrick Griffin believed it was a privilege to serve poor people.

"His approach was grounded in the joy of life and the lens that that provided through a life of faith," said his nephew Michael Griffin. "It found expression in a twinkle and a grin. He was easy with the tears as well — in joy and sorrow."

Father Griffin served at many churches across the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and helped to form what is now St. Stephen's Human Services. Time spent helping those experiencing poverty was a "wonderful privilege," he said in 2018, when the Basilica of St. Mary marked his half-century of ministry.

"The poor have a lot to teach all of us," he said.

Griffin, who grew up the youngest of four on a family farm near Shieldsville, Minn., died Dec. 8 at Catholic Eldercare in Minneapolis. He was 79.

"For him, ministry was something to share, but also to receive, whether it was someone's presence or to recognize their dignity, or to do something about the plight of poverty or those experiencing homelessness," said his nephew. "I think it was something that he and my dad and others learned as kids on the farm — working together, helping neighbors, and making room for someone that might drop by looking for a meal on occasion."

Griffin went to high school at Bethlehem Academy in Faribault, then attended St. Paul Seminary. He was ordained in 1967, in the early years of the Second Vatican Council, which shaped his approach to ministry.

Griffin served at several Twin Cities churches, including St. Timothy in Blaine, Risen Savior in Burnsville and St. Stephen's in Minneapolis, before officially retiring in 2008. He continued to serve part time at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, hearing confessions and celebrating a few masses each week.

It was at St. Stephen's, where he was pastor from 1988 to 2004, that Griffin truly "captured the heart of the people," said former priest Ed Flahavan, who preceded Griffin at the parish.

"The phrase 'servant leader' is much used these days, but that's exactly what the church was meant to be. And Pat Griffin exhibited that in spades," said Flahavan. "He was the guy who was cleaning up after the dinners with others. He empowered the people in the church to say you are the church, not the hierarchy."

Griffin helped to form what is now the nonprofit St. Stephen's Human Services, which began with parish volunteers.

When Washington Post columnist Colman McCarthy visited St. Stephens in 1991, he wrote that few were carrying on St. Patrick's calling with "more energy or daring" than Griffin.

McCarthy wrote that Griffin "begins the Lord's prayer with 'Our Mother and Father who art in heaven' and he baptizes babies in a font the size of a hot tub that needs a lifeguard on duty."

McCarthy also noted that St. Stephen's was providing daily meals and shelter for the homeless, and organized the Alliance of the Streets, which brought homeless men to speak at church groups, schools and civic clubs.

"There's no money at St. Stephen's, but there are gifts here that need to be raised up to serve this local community. That's what we're doing for each other," Griffin told McCarthy.

Besides his nephew Michael Griffin of Minneapolis, Griffin is survived by his brother John Griffin of San Jose, Calif., his sister Sheila Griffin of Footville, Wis., who is a Dominican nun, and many nephews, nieces and other relatives.

A public memorial will be held at a later date.