A priest found dead on the floor of his church is believed to have fallen 35 feet from a ladder while dusting.
Fr John Cribben’s body was discovered early in the morning by a parishioner at Our Lady and St Patrick’s Church in Walton-le-Dale, near Preston.
Police say there were no suspicious circumstances. The matter has been passed to the coroner and a health and safety investigation has been launched by South Ribble Council.
News of Fr Cribben’s death has stunned the community where the 76-year-old had been parish priest for 18 years.
Monsignor John Corcoran, who will officiate at Fr Cribben’s funeral later this week, said: “It is terribly sad and his parishioners are absolutely devastated.
“Fr Cribben was cleaning the architrave above an arch when he fell from a ladder. It was quite high.
“We believe the accident happened the night before he was found.
“He had spent the morning working at the cemetery at Samlesbury and then returned later that day to work in his own church.
“He was a larger than life Irishman, but he had a very keen pastoral awareness and concern. He was always cheerful and anyone who met him always came away the better for it. He will be sadly missed.”
Parishioners believe Fr Cribben had been cleaning the church himself rather than employing an experienced firm.
One said: “Why was he up the ladder? He was dusting. He did the cleaning himself because he believed if he got someone in it would have been too expensive.
“He felt he could manage it, even though he was nearly 77. There was no telling him otherwise. He said that as long as he felt fit and able he would continue. It was the same with retiring. He had no intention of leaving as long as he felt he could do the job.
“I gather there was no-one in the church at the time. He was just found on the floor.
“He was a great priest. A big, loveable bear of a man. He will be sorely missed by everyone.”
Fr Cribben was born in Ireland and was ordained 52 years ago. He was also priest at St Patrick’s partner church St Mary and St John Southworth at Samlesbury.
A parishioner there said: “We are all devastated. I can’t believe it. No-one can understand why he decided to do such a dangerous thing like climbing a ladder. He was such a lovely man.”
Fr Cribben had been chairman of governors at St Patrick’s RC Primary School in Walton-le-Dale for many years.
Headteacher Kath Gleave said: “The news of Fr Cribben’s sudden death has come as a huge shock to everyone connected with St Patrick’s.
“He was frequently here at school, a wonderful warm, reassuring presence for staff and children alike – we adored him.
“We always knew where he was because we could hear his booming laugh as he went about the school. He had a fantastic sense of humour and he was full of joy, which rubbed off on those around him.
“Fr Cribbin was a very kind person, full of empathy – he cared for everyone and you could go to him in confidence at any time. We will miss him enormously and it will take us a long time to come to terms with the fact that he is no longer here.
“But our first duty is to our children and we need to help them deal with this sad news and their own distress. We are receiving specialist help from the county council and we will deal with this as we deal with everything, by pulling together.”
A spokesman for the Bishop of Salford said: “Fr Cribben was a much-loved priest and he will be greatly missed.
“We are not sure yet exactly what happened. That will be a matter for the coroner to decide.”
A police spokesman said: “We were called shortly after 9.30am (on January 27) to the church following a report a man had died. The matter is not being treated as suspicious and a file has been passed to the coroner.”
A spokesman for South Ribble Council said: “Our environmental health department has begun an investigation.”