Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Four diocesan priests retire from full-time ministry

by Jami LeBrun, Inland Register staff

(From the April 28, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

Four priests from the Spokane Diocese will officially retire on July 1.

Father John Birk Father John Birk was ordained to the priesthood in June of 1963. A native of Chicago, Father Birk originally planned to become a Christian Brother, but decided to study for the priesthood after receiving encouragement from his mother. “Why become a Brother? Why not become a priest?” he remembers her asking him.

After attending Quigley Seminary, Chicago; St. Mary Seminary, Baltimore; and Regina Cleri Seminary, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, Father Birk was ordained for the Spokane Diocese.

Father Birk has served the Spokane Diocese in a variety of capacities in the over 40 years since his ordination. He has been assistant pastor and pastor at several parishes in Spokane and the surrounding areas. In the 1970s, he was appointed the diocesan coordinator for the Guatemala Mission and continues to be involved in that project.

Currently, Father Birk is in-residence at St. Patrick Parish, Pasco. He spends his days working as a hospital chaplain at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Pasco and also serves as the chaplain for the Spokane chapter of the Civil Air Patrol. He is actively involved in the World Wide Marriage Encounter and Retrouvaille weekends.

Father Birk first became involved in Marriage Encounter in 1973. After that first weekend, it became very obvious to him that God was calling him to minister to married couples in a very special way. He served the Spokane Diocese ME group as chaplain, and on the national board for Marriage Encounter three times.

Father Birk currently spends several weekends every year presenting Marriage Encounter weekends around the country.

After retiring from active ministry, Father Birk plans to continue to serve World Wide Marriage Encounter and Retrovaille.

“I have so enjoyed ministering to couples – bringing families together and making family life stronger,” he said. “I will definitely continue to do that when I’m retired.”

Father Birk currently plans to continue to reside in Pasco where he will assist in the parishes in the southern part of the diocese. He will continue to serve as chaplain to the Knights of Columbus and the Serra Club, as well as the Civil Air Patrol. He also hopes to continue his involvement and support of Spokane’s sister diocese in Guatemala.

Father Tom Caswell Father Tom Caswell has served the people of the Spokane Diocese since his ordination to the priesthood in May of 1966. He was ordained in Dickinson, N.D., where his family lived at the time.

After celebrating his first Mass in Dickinson, Father Caswell came to Spokane where he has supported the diocese in numerous ways for 39 years.

As a newly ordained priest, Father Caswell served a brief period as Bishop Topel’s secretary while teaching courses at Mater Cleri, the Spokane Diocese’s high school seminary. Father Caswell taught a variety of subjects, including history, religion, English and even typing.

After a few years, Father Caswell was appointed associate pastor of St. Thomas More Parish in Spokane in 1970, and in 1972 became associate pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Spokane. All the while, he continued to teach at Mater Cleri.

Pastoral assignments to St. Patrick Parish, Pasco; Our Lady of the Valley Parish, Okanogan; St. Patrick Parish, Spokane; and Sacred Heart Parish, Pullman followed over the years. In 1999 Father Caswell was appointed pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Cheney, where he has served ever since.

“He’s a pleasant, holy, dedicated man,” said Barb Goold, the secretary and bookkeeper at St. Rose of Lima. “He has everyone’s best interests at heart. He’s one of the nicest guys around.”

As pastor of St. Rose of Lima, Father Caswell is also responsible for Sunday liturgies at the Eastern Washington University Newman Center and for attending student retreats.

Tara Young-Brown, the director of the Newman Center, said that students at the university have developed great fondness and rapport with Father Caswell.

“He’s such a prayerful, loving, caring person that the students really connect with him,” she said. “He’s a man of great humility and prayer, and a man of great joy.”

Though as of July 1 Father Caswell will officially retire, he does not foresee life slowing down very much right away. He plans to move into an apartment in Spokane and help out in various parishes throughout the diocese as needed. He will also volunteer his time in the Catholic Pastoral Center, working closely with the staff of the Inland Register – he has been the publication’s Media Watch columnist for several years – and overseeing the archives.

In the midst of all his volunteering, Father Caswell also hopes to continue pursuit of some of his favorite hobbies, especially walking, gardening, watching movies, reading and maybe even a little traveling to attend workshops. “I like learning new things,” he said.

Father Caswell has really enjoyed the priesthood.

“I’ve enjoyed the people,” he said. “No matter the context, whether it be teaching, or in a parish, or on a retreat, I’ve always enjoyed people.”

Father Felix Lorge Father Felix Lorge was ordained a priest in 1950 as a member of the Redemptorist order. The youngest of seven boys, Father Lorge immigrated to the United States with his family when he was just a child, from Luxembourg. His family settled in Manhattan in New York City, where he grew up attending public schools.

Father Lorge initially had plans to become a certified accountant and began attending the City College of New York at night, while working full time during the day. But an atheistic professor in his History of Civilizations course led him to investigate religion, and more specifically his own faith. What he ended up with was a vocation to the priesthood.

After ordination in June of 1950, Father Lorge went on to obtain a master’s degree in modern European history from The Catholic University of America. He returned to the minor seminary, this time as a teacher, and taught a variety of subjects for a few years before applying to be a military chaplain. Father Lorge spent 20 years serving as a chaplain at Air Force bases all over the world. His final assignment was in Spokane.

“I liked the area,” he said, explaining that in New York City where he grew up, there were no trees, mountains or wildlife. “So, I asked to be incardinated into the Diocese of Spokane,” meaning he became a priest of this diocese.

Since his incardination in 1986, Father Lorge has actively served the Spokane Diocese; first as pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Lacrosse and Our Lady of Perpetual Help, St. John. In 1985 he was assigned to St. Patrick Parish in Colfax.

“He’s been wonderful for our parish,” said Diane Appel, a member of St. Patrick Parish. “He’s always been very supportive. He’s exhibits so much stamina – he never hesitates to do whatever he’s called to do. And he’s a very happy person, always quick with a good joke.”

Though as a child Father Lorge never imagined himself becoming a priest, the priesthood seems to have suited him.

“I have really enjoyed my vocation,” he said. “Cooperating with God to bring Christ’s presence among us in the Body and Blood on the altar has been the most fabulous thing. And bringing sinners back to God through the Sacrament of Reconciliation – well, that makes it all worth it after all.”

After retiring, Father Lorge hopes to spend lots of time reading – mainly history and Scripture. “I’m kind of a history buff,” he explained. He also plans to continue to be active in priestly ministry, helping out in parishes wherever he is needed.

“As long as God continues to bless me with good health as he has thus far, I’ll continue to help out wherever I can,” he said.

Msgr. James Ribble Msgr. James Ribble, rector of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes, has served the Spokane Diocese for nearly 50 years.

A native of Duluth, Minn., Msgr. Ribble was ordained a priest by Bishop Topel for the Spokane Diocese in May 1957. After a short assignment at St. Patrick Parish, Walla Walla, Msgr. Ribble became the diocesan director of vocations and a teacher at Bishop White Seminary, then a high school seminary.

Msgr. Ribble also served as principal of Bishop White Seminary, rector of Mater Cleri Seminary in Colbert, principal of DeSales High School in Walla Walla and pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Pullman.

In 1976, Msgr. Ribble was appointed president-rector of Mount Angel Seminary, St. Benedict, Ore., where he served for six years. Mount Angel Seminary is owned and operated by the Benedictine monks. Several seminarians studying for the Spokane Diocese have participated in the priestly formation program there.

He was appointed rector of the Cathedral in 1983, where he has worked diligently to develop a vibrant and healthy parish faith community.

Many of the staff at the Cathedral have been there as long as Msgr. Ribble.

“He has come to regard the staff at the Cathedral as his family,” said Carol Pelo, the Cathedral pastoral associate. “He is a very strong leader and we work well together.”

Pelo said that Msgr. Ribble worked very hard in his time at the Cathedral to “make it a suitable building for the celebrations that are there.”

“He’s been a building pastor,” said Pelo. “It is primarily due to him that the Cathedral is in the sparkling condition that it is now.”

Under Msgr. Ribble’s leadership, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes has eliminated its debt and restored and remodeled the buildings, grounds and stained glass windows, all with the assistance of the parish community.

“He’s very good at appealing to the people to make the Cathedral their own,” said Pelo.

In 1997, Msgr. Ribble was named a monsignor by Pope John Paul II, along with four of his fellow priests in the Spokane Diocese.

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