Local priest appointed bishop of Juneau, Alaska
Msgr. Edward Burns, a Pittsburgh priest and expert on recruiting men to the Catholic priesthood, has been chosen by Pope Benedict XVI to become bishop of Juneau, the state capital of Alaska.
"It is an honor for me to be called to provide apostolic ministry to the brothers and sisters who live in such a beautiful part of God's creation," Bishop-elect Burns, 51, said yesterday in Juneau.
He has been rector of St. Paul Seminary in East Carnegie and diocesan vocations director since August, when he returned from a nine-year stint in Washington, D.C., as director of the U.S. bishops' vocations office.
In an unusual split ritual, he will be ordained here in St. Paul Cathedral March 3 at 2 p.m., then installed April 2 in Juneau.
Although the Juneau diocese is geographically 10 times the size of the Pittsburgh's, its entire Catholic population of 6,143 could fit into a single Pittsburgh parish. According to the 2008 Official Catholic Directory, it has nine priests and parishes.
He had traveled there twice to speak to priests about faith and politics and about calling men to priesthood. Then, in 2006, Bishop Michael Warfel -- now a bishop in Montana -- asked him to fill in for Holy Week at a parish that had no priest.
"That Holy Week in 2006 was like a retreat for me," Bishop-elect Burns said. "I was enamored by this diocese."
Early yesterday morning he called every priest to say, "I look forward to working with them, collaborating with them. I assured them of my support and solicited their prayers," he said.
He left Pittsburgh Saturday in below-zero temperatures and landed in Juneau where it was 43 and flooded from melting snow. The view from his new house is spectacular he said, adding that he saw a bald eagle fly by. A devout Steelers fan, he watched Sunday's game, "and I'm sure they heard me screaming back in Pittsburgh," he said.
Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh called his appointment "a cause of celebration for the church" that recognizes his "qualities of pastoral care and spiritual leadership in priestly vocations."
He grew up mostly in Ellwood City and graduated from Duquesne University and Mount St. Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., before his 1983 ordination.
He was a parochial vicar at Our Lady of Lourdes, Burgettstown, and Immaculate Conception, Washington, until then-Bishop Donald Wuerl appointed him director of the vocations office and vice-rector of St. Paul Seminary in 1991. He became rector in 1996 and director of clergy personnel in 1997.
In 1999 he was appointed executive director of the secretariat for vocations and priestly formation for the U.S. Catholic Bishops' Conference. He ran that office -- which helps bishops encourage people to become priests, nuns and monks -- during a national scandal over sexual abuse by priests.
His office produced an award-winning DVD on the lives of priests, "Fishers of Men." He also collected and edited the stories of priests who served at Ground Zero, the Pentagon and Shanksville on 9/11 for a booklet called "We Were There."
"This was a moment when people needed to understand that God was present in their life and they looked to priests," he said when it was published. "These are good dedicated men, holy priests, and they are not the ones getting the headlines."
Those who know him describe Bishop-elect Burns as extroverted, engaging and happy.
"He's a genuine, happy-go-lucky priest, a great guy," said the Rev. Thomas Burke, pastor of Good Shepherd in Braddock, who entered seminary when the bishop-elect was vocations director and later became a vocations director himself. From Washington, he helped every vocations director in the country, Father Burke said.
His work brought him to the attention of the Vatican. In 2002 he was co-chairman of a papally mandated congress on vocations in North America. In 2005-06 he was the staff person who organized a Vatican review of all Catholic seminaries in the U.S.
Bishop Zubik said he will name a new seminary rector later this week. He called Bishop-elect Burns a friend, noting they had worked together as priests in diocesan administration in the 1990s.
"He's full of energy. He sees this as a great opportunity to be a missionary, to not only serve the people of his diocese, but to invite people to become part of the church," he said.
Michael Conway, a first-year seminarian at the seminary, said it was odd not to have their rector watching the Steelers playoff game with them Sunday night. The bishop-elect had told them only that he would be away for the weekend and asked for their prayers. Bishop Zubik, who lives at the seminary, announced the appointment at a 6 a.m. prayers.
"It's great for the Diocese of Juneau, but a heck of a loss for us," Mr. Conway said.
First Published January 20, 2009 12:00 am