Catholic Sentinel photo
Deacon John Ries with friend Troy Baldwin.
Catholic Sentinel photo
Deacon John Ries with friend Troy Baldwin.

Deacon John Ries, who was in the first class of deacon candidates in Oregon after Vatican II re-established the order in 1965, died Friday, Nov. 22. He was 90.

He served as deacon at St. Mary Cathedral Parish for 17 years where he became known as "plumber to the archbishops," for all the free maintenance work he did around the church.

John Ries was born on Dec. 22, 1922, and was raised and educated through pre-college years in Portland while remaining in his baptismal parish, St. Mary Magdelene (The Madeleine).

Following graduation from Columbia Prep High School, which was then located on the University of Portland campus, he attended Mount Angel Seminary and graduated in 1945. He pursued theology at St. Edward Seminary in Washington, but joined the Navy in 1946.

After discharge, he began a varied career that included positions with the University of Portland (director of admissions), the Portland Fire Department, and as a teacher in Portland, Redmond and Burns. 

Portland Public Schools appointed him director of Home Repair Training. While in that job he initiated a program to teach construction skills to those entering the field of home repair by fixing the homes of low income, elderly and handicapped persons. The program became a model for similar efforts on the East Coast. It formed the basis for bringing the Christmas in April program to the University of Portland. Now known as Rebuilding Together, the charity helps people fix their neighbors' homes that have fallen into disrepair.

He worked for 10 years as manager of the industrial division of United Radio Supply, and served with the Coast Guard Auxiliary, retiring as division captain. While pursuing these careers he obtained his first master’s degree from the University of Portland.

When he retired from his civilian work pursuits, he supervised the remodeling of the Madeleine church, school and parish hall. Then-Archbishop William Levada asked John to return to Mount Angel Seminary to complete studies in theology.

He received his second master’s degree, this time in theological studies, in 1992, from Mount Angel Seminary.

He was ordained a deacon by Archbishop Levada in 1993.  He was assigned by Archbishop Levada to St. Mary Cathedral where he remained until his retirement in 2009.

He is survived by his wife Elinor, Portland; five daughters, 10 grandsons and one granddaughter.

A funeral Mass will be held Tuesday, Dec. 3, at 11 a.m. at St. Mary Cathedral.