Celebrating the life of a “kind and gentle” priest

STRATFORD—Msgr. George D. Birge was laid to rest this morning after the season’s first snowstorm, but the warmth inside St. James Church was unmistakable as family, friends, and brother priests turned out to remember the man many of them knew simply as “Fr Bo.”

“We gather as a community of mourners as well as a community of believers,” said long-time friend Msgr. John Hossan in his homily. “He will be sorely missed by each and everyone here. In his several assignments as teacher and pastor, he was always a gentle and kind man.” Msgr. Hossan said he first met George Birge in 1953 when he was a young priest assigned to St. James and Fr. Birge was a seminarian. “We have lost a brother, father, uncle, friend, and teacher, but gained an intercession but he has left us with this legacy of kindness,” said Msgr. Hossan of Fr. Birge.

Bishop Frank J. Caggiano was the main celebrant of the Mass of Christian Burial for Msgr. Birge who served as a priest for more than 58 years. “He was an extraordinary man, and no one knows that better than yourselves,” the Bishop said. ”We come here to honor one of Christ’s priests. We celebrate the fact that he entered into the great mystery of ordination and understood and lived it with joy very day of his life.”

In a poetic and moving eulogy Susan Birge, niece of Msgr. Birge, recalled a man who loved life, was a source of joy for his large family, and had a genuine affection for the people he encountered. She said he was voted class president and “Most Popular” boy, and captain of the basketball team at Stratford High School. At age 18, he followed his older brothers and enlisted to serve in World War II. She said he grew up alongside St. James Church, where he was an altar boy, but that his vocation was formed during World War II when he served on a tank landing ship that was transporting Chinese refugees to Shanghai. It was there he met the Jesuits and they “solidified” his vocation. After the war he became a member of the first graduating class of Fairfield University and went on St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, CT

Noting that he was an avid reader who studied Eastern religions as well as taking retreats in Trappist monasteries, she said that Msgr. Birge was also a “great listener who listened without judging.” “He was always present to others, and always on the verge of laughter,” she said. “There was always a twinkle in his eye and he loved having fun.”

At the end of her eulogy the entire Church stood to give “Fr. Bo” a standing ovation. Bells tolled as the mourners recessed out, while behind the Church children played in the wet and new fallen snow, not far from the house where Fr. Birge lived as a boy. He was buried at St. Lawrence Cemetery in West Haven.