By David Sedeño
The Texas Catholic
DALLAS — Pope Francis has named Bishop Edward J. Burns of Juneau, Alaska, as the next bishop of Dallas, succeeding Cardinal Kevin J. Farrell, who is now the prefect of the new Vatican office for the Laity, Family and Life.
Bishop Burns, 59, a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh with long service in the area of vocations, has headed since 2009 the Diocese of Juneau, which has about 10,000 Catholics. He is a former rector of St. Paul’s Seminary in Pittsburgh and former director of the U.S. bishops’ national offices dealing with clergy, vocations and priestly formation.
His appointment as the bishop of Dallas was announced Dec. 13 in Washington by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.
Bishop Burns will be installed as the eighth bishop of Dallas Feb. 9 at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Dallas.
Bishop Burns met with staff at the pastoral center in Dallas the morning of Feb. 13, asking for their prayers, telling them that he had already been praying for them and saying that he looked forward to working with them and others doing God’s work.
“I do see a joy in their faces as they serve,” he said at a news conference later in the day.
At the news conference, he also talked about his years of service to the church and talked about the importance of priests, women religious, deacons, seminarians, the laity and the parishioners in the pews to the life of the church.
“To my brother priests, I say to you, ‘Stay strong and stay faithful.’ I look forward to working side by side with you.’
“To the seminarians of this diocese, I say, ‘We need you!’ We need more men like you. Pray for the courage to enter the mystery of God’s plan for your life.’
“To the deacons, ‘Thank you for your ministry of service.’ To the men and women in consecrated life, ‘May your witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ be blessed and bear much fruit.’
“To the many lay ministers and catechists of the diocese, ‘Your good work in essential in advancing the mission of the church. Your ministry is a blessing.’
“To all the faithful of our parishes, ‘Stay close to Jesus Christ. May he strengthen you through the celebration of his word and his sacraments.’
“To my brothers and sisters who no longer attend church, I invite you to come home for Christmas,” he said. “Your presence helps complete the parish family.”
Acknowledging and apologizing that he did not speak Spanish in a diocese where percent of the 1.3 million Catholics are of Hispanic origin, he said he would learn it quickly.
He also said that he would remind immigrants that the church is in solidarity with them and said that he looked forward to celebrating Mass at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe during the feast day next Dec. 12.
“I look forward much to learning about their culture,” he said. “I look forwarding to learning their language because in my being called a shepherd,” he said, before switching to Spanish and adding “Yo so Eduardo—tu hermano y tu obispo (I am Edward—your brother and your bishop.)”
Bishop Burns called himself a prayerful man and said that at first glance it may seem that coming from a small diocese would present a challenge in administering one of the fastest-growing dioceses in the country.
The 37,600-square-mile Diocese of Juneau is considered one of the U.S. church’s home mission dioceses. Out of a total population of 75,000, it has 10,000 Catholics and has one Catholic school.
By contrast the nine-county Dallas diocese is home to more than 70 parishes, many whose congregation swells beyond 10,000 and it has approximately 15,000 students in diocesan and private Catholic schools. The Dallas diocese also is home to numerous Fortune 500 companies, including AT&T, Exxon-Mobil, Toyota of America, among other regional conglomerates.
The diocese, under then-Bishop Farrell’s leadership, recently completed a $125 million capital campaign, has consolidated four diocesan elementary schools into academies and has seen the renovation of numerous parishes and schools.
Bishop Burns said he spoke to Cardinal Farrell recently by telephone.
He said that he hoped to build upon the great work of then-Bishop Farrell over his nearly 10 years as the leader of the Diocese of Dallas and that he would begin by visiting parishes and schools throughout the diocese in order to hear from others about the challenges that remain for the Dallas diocese.
“I had a chance to thank him for the good work he has done in this wonderful diocese,” I am personally aware of his generous service, not only to his local church, but also the national church and now to the universal church.
“I know I am going to sit in my new office in which he labored in and toiled in and I am going to truly build on his great work,” he said. “I am going to be one who is not going to attempt to fulfull all that he has to offer, but simply build on that.”
Then Msgr. Burns was named bishop of Juneau by Pope Benedict XVI Jan. 19, 2009, and ordained a bishop March 3, 2009, at St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh, his home diocese. His installation was April 2, 2009.
Bishop Burns is the current chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People. He also is a member of the bishops’ Subcommittee on Catholic Home Missions and has been a member of their Administrative Committee.
The son of Geraldine Little Burns and the late Donald P. Burns, Edward J. Burns was born Oct. 7, 1957, and raised in the Pittsburgh area. After high school, he attended St. Paul Seminary/Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, where he earned a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy and sociology. He then attended Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, graduating in 1983 with a master of divinity degree and a master’s degree in theology. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Pittsburgh June 25, 1983.
After ordination, then-Father Burns served in parish ministry, diocesan administration, and in vocation and seminary work. He was the director of clergy personnel for the Pittsburgh Diocese when then-Bishop Donald W. Wuerl of Pittsburgh released him to serve at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington.
On the national level he was executive director of the USCCB’s Secretariat for Vocations and Priestly Formation from 1999 to 2008. Pope Benedict named him a monsignor in 2006. Msgr. Burns returned to Pittsburgh in August 2008 as rector of St. Paul’s Seminary and director of the diocesan preordination formation department and office for vocations.
Now-Cardinal Wuerl, who is archbishop of Washington, issued a statement on Bishop Burns’ new appointment, calling it “a joy to hear” that Pope Francis “has entrusted” the Dallas Diocese to him.
In the bishop’s years of ministry as a diocesan priest, at the USCCB and in Alaska, “I have seen the great pastoral care and spiritual leadership with which Bishop Burns has faithfully served the church,” Cardinal Wuerl said on Dec. 13. “The Diocese of Dallas is blessed to be gaining an extraordinary shepherd, and he brings with him our prayers for his pastoral ministry.”