Rev. James E. Birkmaier, 83, passed away on March 8, 2023, in Great Falls, MT at Renaissance Assisted Living after a long illness. He served as a Catholic priest of the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings for 54 years. Father Birkmaier was born on November 27, 1939, in Mandan, North Dakota. He spent most of his youth in Wolf Point, Montana, but graduated from Mandan High School in 1957.
After high school, he joined the U.S. Air Force, and was eligible for early release in order to enter the seminary and pursue his vocation to the priesthood in August 1960. He attended St. Edward and St. Thomas Sulpician Seminaries of the Northwest in Kenmore, Washington. He was ordained to serve the Church in eastern Montana on May 18, 1968, at St. Joseph Church in Mandan, ND.
Father Birkmaier’s first brief assignment was at Sacred Heart Church in Miles City as assistant pastor. In 1969 he was assigned as an associate priest at St. Ann’s Cathedral in Great Falls, and then as associate priest at St. Matthew’s Church in Sidney in 1970. In 1972, he was appointed pastor of St. Theresa’s Church in Lambert with additional duties as the Director of Religious Education in Sidney.
In 1973, he was transferred to Great Falls to serve as co-pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Church, and later that year moved to Glasgow to be co-pastor of St. Raphael Church. He joined the pastoral team at St. Leo’s Church in Lewistown in 1979, where he served for four years.
In 1982, he began his service as pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Wolf Point, and then, in 1986, he returned to Great Falls as Catholic Chaplain at Columbus Hospital. He touched many people in his ministry of care during the fifteen years he held this position. His last parish assignment was to serve as pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Fort Benton in 2001, before retiring from active ministry in 2004.
He had a tremendous zest for life and enjoyed food and fellowship with fellow priests, religious, and laity who toiled alongside him in the vineyard of the Lord. He greatly enjoyed playing golf and other outdoor activities, especially hiking the River’s Edge Trail in Great Falls. To read the complete obituary and share condolences, visit the Schnider Funeral Home website.
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