Msgr. George Birge
STRATFORD—Msgr. George D. Birge died on January 20 at Golden Hill Health Center in Milford.
He had recently been under hospice care.
A Stratford native, he was born on March 22, 1927, the fourth of seven children. He was baptized in St. James Church, and served as an altar boy there throughout his youth.
He graduated from Stratford High School, where he was class president, captain of the basketball team, and voted “Most Popular” by his classmates.
His mother accepted his diploma at graduation because he enlisted in the Navy during his senior year during World War II. He served in the South Pacific, and in later years told stories about his time in China navigating the Yangtze River on the LST #636 transport boat. While in China, he also consulted with Jesuits he met in Shanghai about becoming a priest.
Upon returning to the States, he attended Fairfield University and graduated in 1951 as a member of the first graduating class, and was the university’s first alumnus to be ordained a priest. He attended St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield and completed his studies at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, Md. He was ordained by Bishop (later Cardinal) Lawrence Shehan in St. Augustine Cathedral on May 10, 1956.
Msgr. Birge’s first assignment was as a parochial vicar at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Fairfield. In 1958 he was appointed to teach at Notre Dame Catholic High School in Fairfield and in 1959 he became a full-time faculty member and dean of discipline at Stamford Catholic High School (now Trinity Catholic). In 1962 he became spiritual director of the former Christ the King Seminary in Southport.
He was chaplain of Villa Maria Retreat House in Stamford, and was a member of the priests’ personnel committee for a five-year term starting in January, 1969.
In addition to St. Thomas, Msgr. Birge was a parochial vicar at St. Augustine Cathedral Parish, Blessed Sacrament Parish in Bridgeport, St. Theresa Parish in Trumbull, St. Clement Parish in Stamford and St. Pius X Parish in Fairfield. In 1971 he was named pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Georgetown and at the same time took the responsibility as pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Redding.
During that time to took a sabbatical to study at Yale Divinity School in New Haven. He also attained a certification from the Westchester Institute for Training in psychoanalysis and psychotherapy.
Continuing his lifetime love of teaching, in 1977 he joined the faculty of Central Catholic High School (now All Saints School) in Norwalk, and was resident chaplain at the Notre Dame Provincial House in Ridgefield. He was also a member of the diocesan Matrimonial Tribunal during those years. He served as weekend assistant and resident priest at Assumption Parish in Westport, St. Elizabeth Seton, Parish in Ridgefield, St. Peter Parish in Bridgeport, St. Theresa Parish in Trumbull, and St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bridgeport.
He was temporary administrator of Christ the King Parish in Trumbull before becoming pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Newtown on August 1, 1986. He was appointed Prelate of Honor to His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, on December 19, 1996.
During Msgr. Birge’s tenure, St. Rose grew to include more than 2,500 families. He was instrumental in the purchase of additional property on Church Hill Rd. as the first step in a long range expansion and renovation program. That program was completed by his successor, Msgr. Robert Weiss.
In 1999, Msgr. Birge was appointed pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Sherman. The appointment was effective July 1 of that year. He remained at Holy Trinity for more than 10 years, until his retirement on August 10, 2002.
He is survived in this diocese by his brother James and sisters Marie Minahan, Nancy Goodrich and Ellen Stadmueller, all of Stratford; Jane Greenwood of Trumbull; and their spouses and children.
Msgr. Birge had continued to concelebrate Mass at St. James, his home parish, during his retirement. He will be received into St. James Church on Friday, January 23, at 4 pm. A parish vigil Mass will be celebrated that evening at 7:30. Father Thomas Lynch, St. James’ pastor, will be the celebrant and homilist. Bishop Frank J. Caggiano will celebrate the Mass of Christian Burial on Saturday, January 24, at 10:30 am. His good friend Msgr. John Hossan will give the homily.
Burial with full military honors will follow on Monday at St. Lawrence Cemetery, West Haven.