Pope Names Pittsburgh Native Bishop Burns to Lead Dallas Diocese

By Peter Smith
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
December 14, 2016

Bishop David Zubik of the Diocese of Pittsburgh places a mitre on the head of then Monsignor Edward Burns during his ordination as a bishop at St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland in 2009.

He was born in Pittsburgh, grew up in Ellwood City, got his undergraduate degree from Duquesne University and sensed a call to the Catholic priesthood here.

“I always envisioned I would be a pastor in a parish in Western Pennsylvania,” Bishop Edward Burns said Tuesday.

And he was — for a while. Then he went on to direct the recruitment and training of new priests in Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., before heading to Alaska in 2009 to lead the smallest U.S. diocese.

Now he’ll be leading one of the largest.

Pope Francis on Tuesday named Bishop Burns, 59, to lead the Diocese of Dallas. It is the nation’s 11th largest, has 1.3 million Catholics and is growing fast, largely due to a Hispanic influx. In contrast, Bishop Burns’ current flock of 10,000 in the sprawling Diocese of Juneau could fit into a single Dallas parish.

Bishop Edward Burns

“He’s going from one extreme to the other,” said Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik, a longtime friend. “He’s got a lot of energy, he rolls with the punches. No challenge is too big for him. He’s got a great deal of joy.”

And as he greeted his new flock at a Dallas news conference Tuesday, Bishop Burns switched briefly from English to a halting Spanish, which he pledged to improve quickly.

Bishop Burns’ appointment marks the latest in a series of high-profile promotions for priests who came up through the ranks of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Others include Archbishop Bernard Hebda, named in March to lead the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, elected last month as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholics Bishops.

It didn’t hurt that a former bishop of Pittsburgh, now-Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, is on a Vatican congregation that sends recommendations to the pope for bishop appointments. Cardinal Wuerl, in a statement, touted Bishop Burns’ “great pastoral care and spiritual leadership.”

Bishop Burns has met Pope Francis in Rome and during the pontiff’s 2015 U.S. trip.

“These are the kind of bishops that Pope Francis is appointing, men who are true and proven pastors,” Bishop Zubik said.

Bishop Burns said in an interview he’s committed to Francis’ vision to help people “encounter the mercy of Jesus Christ.”

“We are called to be shepherds to people ... no matter where they are in the complexities of their lives,” he said.

Bishop Burns was born in 1957 in Pittsburgh. Baptized and confirmed at Holy Rosary Parish in Homewood, he was educated there and then in Ellwood City at St. Agatha School and Lincoln High School. He entered St. Paul Seminary in East Carnegie, earned an undergraduate degree at Duquesne and then a master’s in theology at Mount St. Mary Seminary in Maryland.

Ordained a priest in 1983, he served at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Burgettstown and then at Immaculate Conception Parish in Washington, Pa.

“He was much loved, very popular and very innovative,” said the Rev. William Feeney, current pastor at Immaculate Conception.

He later worked in various roles for the diocese recruiting and training priests, including two stints as rector of St. Paul Seminary.

In 1999, he became executive director of a Washington, D.C.-based office helping to coordinate bishops’ efforts to encourage people to become priests, nuns and monks. He later staffed a Vatican review of U.S. seminaries.

In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him to Juneau.

At his news conference Tuesday, Bishop Burns had a word for everyone, encouraging seminarians and lay ministers while inviting lapsed Catholics to “come home for Christmas.”

Given the large Hispanic population in Dallas, many without legal immigration status, he acknowledged their fears of a looming crackdown. “We are in solidarity with you,” he said.

On a lighter note, the lifelong member of Steelers Nation said he is now a Cowboys fan — but if the two teams played, he would have a “conflicted conscience.”

Bishop Burns replaces now-Cardinal Kevin J. Farrell, whom Francis appointed to a Vatican role in August. He will be formally installed in Dallas on Feb. 9.

Peter Smith: 412-263-1416, or Twitter @PG_PeterSmith.








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