Monday, March 02, 2009

On Burns' Day in 'Burgh, It's Warmer in Alaska. Again.

Mention the name of Juneau's new bishop in the house circles, and Ed Burns' many friends will smile. And melt. And gush. And even cry.

And... well, you get the idea.

Tomorrow, many of those folks will be heading to the veteran formator's native Pittsburgh to cheer on the cheerful 51 year-old -- universally known as "so nice" -- as he's ordained to lead the 7,300-member church in Alaska's capital, the nation's smallest Latin-rite diocese by population.

As diocesan bishops are traditionally ordained in their new charges, the 2pm rite in the Steel City's St Paul's Cathedral is a relative rarity. Burgh Bishop David Zubik will preside, assisted by his predecessor, Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, and the metropolitan of the Arctic state, Archbishop Roger Schweitz OMI of Anchorage.

Juneau's Catholic population might be small, but Burns' new turf is just as immense -- some 38,000 square miles (100,000 square km), to be precise, with eleven parishes, just as many priests on the ground... and, as the man on a mission told Steeler Nation's Tribune-Review, getting around will often require a boat or plane:
But that won't be a problem for a man who is a certified scuba diver and loves to water ski. He's looking forward to "kayaking next to humpback whales with bald eagles overhead."...

"He loves the outdoors. He spent 10 days in Juneau when they were short of priests. He loved it up there," said his father, Donald Burns of Beaver. "He called it 'God's country.'"

[Burns] said it will be difficult to leave Pittsburgh.

"Never in my life have I purchased a one-way ticket," he said.

While his parents were hoping he'd become a lawyer, Burns came home one day and told them he wanted to be a priest.

"He's enjoyed it ever since," his father said....

He regards his new assignment as an opportunity to bring more people into the church and said he started to feel at home there after the announcement of his appointment in January.

"A number of people said they were praying for me specifically. When I asked how they knew to pray for me, they said, 'We knew God had someone in store for our diocese,'" he said.
For his coat of arms, the new Alaskan has selected a design reflecting both his roots and his ministry's immersion in vocations work: a net representing the "fisher of men" (and the video of the same name he produced whilst leading the US bishops' priestly recruitment efforts); the sword of St Paul, patron of the Pittsburgh church, and the bars of water to represent its Three Rivers; the horn to symbolize the herald of the Gospel, and in deference both to his boyhood parish and his 7 October birthday, the Rosary.

With tomorrow's ordination, Burns joins four other native Burghers leading Stateside dioceses: Wuerl, Zubik, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence. And it likely won't be long before Bishop Paul Bradley -- the highly-regarded, omnicompetent hometown auxiliary -- joins the group, giving the term "Sixburgh" new meaning.

As for the weather, just as it was on Appointment Day, tomorrow's Juneau high of 35F will be a full ten degrees warmer than the day's forecast for the Steel City.

Burns will be installed in Alaska on 3 April... and if his predecessor's traditional once-yearly dinner guest is to be believed, revellers will be able to see Russia from the cathedral.

PHOTOS: Diocese of Pittsburgh