Jubilarian priests serve people near and far

The Archdiocese of Louisville has five priests this year who are celebrating 50 years of priesthood.

Archdiocesan priests Fathers John W. Birk, John A. Caldwell, Charles R. Dittmeier and J. Ronald Knott were ordained on May 16, 1970, and Passionist Father Richard Parks was ordained June 13, 1970. Since then, their lives and ministry have been as varied as the ensuing decades.

In addition to these five golden jubilarians, Father Philip L. Erickson is marking the 25th anniversary of his ordination.

Normally, these six men would have been feted by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz and their brother priests in May with a special celebration at the Cathedral of the Assumption. But like so many celebrations scheduled since late winter, the coronavirus pandemic cancelled those plans.

While their achievements can’t be celebrated in person, the following biographical information about their ministries in the Archdiocese of Louisville and beyond tell of their noteworthy accomplishments:

Father John Birk is shown robing before his ordination to the priesthood on Saturday, May 16, 1970 at the Cathedral of the Assumption. Photo by The Record.

Reverend John W. Birk, 83, retired in 2007.
The Record published a story about Father Birk’s ordination when he was 33 under the following headline May 21, 1970: Multi-Talented Man Turns Priest.

The story goes on to wonder, “Why does a man who holds a college degree in journalism … who has served as news director at a radio station … written and edited news at a TV station … served two hitches in the U.S. Army … been a reporter on The Record … taught school … why does he — after changing his mind once — enter seminary and become a priest?”

His answer was simple:
“It was something I simply knew I must do.”

Father Birk indicated at that time he felt called to serve in pastoral ministry and he has done so ever since. He has served in parishes around Louisville, including as associate pastor of St. Martha, St. Barnabas, Guardian Angels, St. Leonard and Christ the King churches. He served as administrator of St. Aloysius Church in Shepherdsville, Ky., and then served as pastor of St. Luke and Holy Name churches. He also celebrated monthly Masses in the Byzantine rite.

Father John A. Caldwell gives his blessing to one of the persons attending the ordination Mass in this May 16, 1970 photo.

Reverend John A. Caldwell, 78, also dedicated his ministry to pastoral work. He served as an associate pastor at four parishes, including St. Pius X, St. Catherine in New Haven, Ky.; St. Joseph in Bardstown, Ky.; and St. Aloysius in Pewee Valley, Ky.

He also served as pastor of St. Aloysius, St. Lawrence Church and Our Lady of the Hills Church in Finley, Ky.

He served as administrator at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Phillipsburg, Ky.; Our Lady of Perpetual Help
Church in Campbellsville, Ky.; and Holy Redeemer Church in Greensburg, Ky.
Father Caldwell retired in 2012.

“Noon” is the sign Father Charles Dittmeier is demonstrating for members of a sign language course he conducted at St. Lawrence parish, Nov. 29, 1973. Record File Photo by Casslyn Harris.

Reverend Charles R. Dittmeier, 76, is a priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville who has served for more than three decades as a Maryknoll Associate Priest.

His service with Maryknoll began in 1987 in Hong Kong, where he served for 13 years. He has served in Cambodia since 2000. His ministry focuses on people who are deaf and he has helped develop sign language for Cambodian people.

Prior to Maryknoll, he had a taste of missionary work in Bangalore, India, in a technical training center.
Locally, Father Dittmeier served as the part-time director of the archdiocese’s Deaf Office. He was chaplain of Holy Rosary Academy and Angela Merici High School. He served as associate pastor of St. Lawrence and Sts. Simon and Jude parishes. And he served as executive secretary of the archdiocese’s Commission on Youth Ministry.

He currently serves as the co-director of the Maryknoll Deaf Development Program in Cambodia and is pastor of the English-speaking parish in Cambodia, the country’s second-largest parish with about 800 parishioners.

Father Dittmeier also writes a column called “Living Mission” for The Record every other month and keeps a blog at parish-without-borders.org.

Father J. Ronald Knott, pictured in this June 5, 1975, photo, was the first resident Catholic priest in the history of Wayne County, now located in the Diocese of Lexington. Knott was serving both Catholic and non-Catholic students as the part-time minister at Somerset Community College. Photo Special to The Record by David Laws.

Reverend J. Ronald Knott, 76, a long-time pastor who wrote the popular “An Encouraging Word” column in The Record for 15 years, retired in 2014, but continues to minister in the Caribbean.

Father Knott has served in parishes around the archdiocese. His earliest assignments, as associate pastor at St. Mildred Church in Somerset, Ky., and administrator of St. Peter Mission in Monticello, Ky., and Good Shepherd in Whitley City, Ky., are now in the Diocese of Lexington.

The Record reported in 1975, when he was serving at St. Peter Mission, that he was Wayne County’s first resident priest.

He also served as pastor of Holy Name of Mary Church in Calvary, Ky., and the Cathedral of the Assumption, where he oversaw the 1994 renovation.

Father Knott was also a member of the archdiocese’s liturgical commission and a consultor on the Priests’ Council.

He led the archdiocese’s Vocation Office as director for six years and then became the director of the Institute for Priests and Presbyterates at St. Meinrad Seminary for a decade.

Father Knott has written books on a variety of subjects, including vocations and compilations of his columns.

In retirement, he founded the Catholic Second Wind Guild, a ministry that pools the expertise and resources of talented retirees for the benefit of people on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Reverend Richard Parks, C.P.

Reverend Richard Parks, C.P., 82, professed vows as a Passionist on July 22, 1963, and was ordained a priest seven years later.

Father Parks has served as the local superior of Passionist communities in Cincinnati, Louisville and Citrus Heights, Calif.

He also served as a Fourth Consultor for the Passionist Holy Cross Province.

During his 57 years as a Passionist, he has also served as a retreat director in Citrus Heights, on the retreat team in Houston and as a pastor in Cincinnati.

He now resides at Nazareth Home Clifton.

Reverend Philip L. Erickson

Reverend Philip L. Erickson was ordained on May 27, 1995, his 27th birthday.

A quarter of a century later, he has served as a pastor of six parishes, including St. Thomas More, Our Lady of Mount Carmel and now of the clustered Our Mother of Sorrows, St. Elizabeth of Hungary and St. Therese of Lisieux.

Father Erickson also has served as associate pastor of St. Raphael Church, as sacramental moderator of St. John the Apostle Church in Brandenburg, Ky., and as chaplain at DeSales High School, his alma mater.
He also served for 13 years as the adjutant judicial vicar in the archdiocese’s Tribunal.

In a profile in The Record published prior to his ordination, Father Erickson noted that he “played Mass” as a child and wanted to be a priest from a young age.

He described his priesthood in terms of being with people and caring for them.

“It really pleases me to be called to service,” he told The Record. “It’s a very humbling thing.”

Marnie McAllister
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Marnie McAllister
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One reply on “Jubilarian priests serve people near and far”
  1. Thank you for putting this on facebook. I know and love Fr. John Birk. I moved to PA after I retired but lived in Louisville for 70 years. I also worked with Fr Birk’s father

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