New Alaska bishop from Pittsburgh

Burns to lead Juneau diocese's 7,300 Catholics

Posted: Tuesday, January 20, 2009

JUNEAU - Monsignor Edward J. Burns, a rector from Pittsburgh, was introduced Monday as the next bishop of the Diocese of Juneau.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Burns succeeds Bishop Michael W. Warfel, who left Juneau just over a year ago for a similar assignment in Montana.

Burns arrived in Juneau on Sunday afternoon just in time to watch his favorite NFL team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, win the AFC championship and to meet members of the community.

He received formal introduction at a news conference Monday morning. Burns told a small crowd that he is "excited about meeting the faithful of all parishes and missions from the Juneau Diocese."

"It is with profound gratitude to our Holy Father for his confidence in me to lead this diocese and with great humility that I have accepted this challenge," Burns said.

Unlike the corporate world, clergy don't apply for promotions, they simply receive their next assignments. In Burns' case, he said he didn't learn of the news until a few days before Christmas.

"I had just begun an assignment as rector of St. Paul Seminary in Pittsburgh and we are in the midst of an academic year, so surprise is definitely a factor," he said.

"As priests, we are prepared to enter into many mysteries of the faith. Being selected for a diocese is part of the mystery. You're never quite sure, but I do embrace this with a lot of joy."

The Juneau diocese has about 7,300 Catholics in 11 parishes, served by nine priests, three deacons and two other clergy.

Burns visited the Southeast region three times before his appointment, including once to serve at a parish that did not have a priest during Holy Week three years ago. The church was St. Rose of Lima in Wrangell, about 150 miles south of Juneau.

Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik said the Juneau diocese will get a gregarious man whose enthusiasm for the faith is contagious.

But Burns also brings a no-nonsense approach, unafraid to speak of tough issues facing the church such as the recent allegations of child sexual abuse by priests.

"In light of the some of the issues facing the church, you face them head on, and absolutely with a level of responsibility," Burns said.

"It's important to echo the words of Pope John Paul II," Burns said. "He said 'there is no room in the priesthood for anyone who would harm a child.'"

Burns was ordained as a priest in 1983.

He earned a bachelor's degree in sociology and philosophy from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, then earned his master's degree in theology at Mount St. Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.

His work has taken him throughout his birth state of Pennsylvania, but it also includes a 10-year stint with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.

While in the nation's capital, Burns served on the staff to the Bishops' Committee on Vocations and the Bishops' Committee on Priestly Formation.

"He helps people see that the priesthood is a good life," Zubik said. "He is one to prove that by his own life. You don't have to be in his presence too long to feel that contagious nature of his enthusiasm."

Zubik will ordain Burns as a bishop on March 3 in Pittsburgh, then Burns will be installed as bishop in Juneau on April 2.

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