Monday, January 19, 2009

From Tampa to Alaska, Steel City Burn-ing Up

On this Inauguration Eve, now it can be told: the Pope can see Russia from his desk.

Well, something like that.

Fresh off the hometown Steelers' 23-14 win over the Baltimore Ravens in last night's AFC Championship (congrats to Tobin), this morning B16 named a son of Pittsburgh, Msgr Ed Burns, rector of St Paul Seminary there -- and, until recently, the well-regarded executive director of the USCCB Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations -- as bishop of Juneau.

In the 38,000-square mile, 7,300-member church based in Alaska's capital, the 51 year-old appointee succeeds Bishop Michael Warfel, who spent this past weekend marking his first anniversary as head of Montana's diocese of Great Falls-Billings. Originally a priest of Anchorage, Warfel was transferred to the Big Sky see in November 2007 after eleven years on the state's southeastern tail.

An ever-smiling, media-savvy, well-met sort dubbed "a delight," the bishop-elect was the national church's point-man on priestly recruitment during his near-decade in the conference post -- a tenure best known for the widely-circulated video "Fishers of Men" and "We Were There," a chronicle of priests serving at New York's Ground Zero in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Ordained in 1983, after two successful assignments as a parish priest -- yet never a pastor -- then-Bishop Donald Wuerl recruited Burns into the Pittsburgh Curia in 1991, first as vocation director, then in 1996 as rector of St Paul's, the house of formation for the six-county diocese's seminarians, and director of clergy personnel.

Released to the DC assignment in 1999, the 51st bishop-alum of Mount St Mary's in Emmitsburg was called home last summer, as newly-returned 'Burgh Bishop David Zubik restored Burns to the rectorship of the seminary and the diocese's top vocations post. During his days at the Mothership, Burns was a lead staffer for the Vatican's 2005-6 Apostolic Visitation of the nation's 200-plus Seminaries and Houses of Formation, whose final report from Rome was released last week.

The latest in a long line of Steel City sons to go on to the high-hat -- including three of its last four ordinaries -- the last time a Pittsburgh native was elevated to the episcopacy without first serving as a hometown auxiliary came in 1997, when then-Msgr Daniel DiNardo was appointed coadjutor-bishop of Sioux City; of course, DiNardo is currently archbishop of Galveston-Houston and the first-ever cardinal given the American South. It's likewise worth noting that while Pittsburgh priests serving in Washington or Rome have been given papal honors into the present, "Purple Rain" hasn't actually fallen on Black-and-Gold Country since 1968.

Then again, as Western Pennsylvania's racked up five NFL titles in said period while Eagles Nation grieves anew, maybe their ways are onto something.

Said to be a devoted Steelerite in his own right, the bishop-elect -- who parted with his signature mustache over recent months -- arrived in Alaska over the weekend for today's customary public rollout, and to adjust to the time-change; by population the smallest Latin-rite church in the 50 states, Juneau's clocks run four hours behind the 'Burgh.

Per the norms of the canons, Burns must be ordained and installed in his new post within four months of this morning's nomination. And, while we're at it, the Steelers will face the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII on 1 February in Tampa.

Lastly, lest anyone on the Mainland needed to feel any colder after the recent sweep of the frigid "Alberta clipper," it bears reporting that Juneau is actually warmer than Pittsburgh on this Appointment Day -- today's high in the former is a balmy 39F (4C), with last night's Steel City low of 15 a full 22 degrees cooler than the evening mercury in Burns' new charge. Last week, a citywide power outage ensued in the Arctic capital after 51 inches of snow accumulated this season melted and caused floods.

In other words, it's already springtime for the bishop-elect.

SVILUPPO: In a rare double-bill, Burns will be ordained in Pittsburgh's St Paul's Cathedral on 3 March and installed in Juneau on 2 April.

In advance of the morning presser (mid-afternoon in the East), the bishop-elect's statement has hit the street.

This is my fourth trip to the Diocese of Juneau. A number of years ago, I gave a presentation to the priests on the topic of Faithful Citizenship. A second trip provided me another wonderful opportunity to meet with the priests to offer the Priestly Life & Vocation Summit: Fishers of Men program. My third trip to this Diocese came at the request of Bishop Warfel to cover a parish that was without a priest during Holy Week in 2006. It was one of the best experiences of my life. For ten days in April 2006, I provided priestly service to the good people of St. Rose of Lima in Wrangell, AK as we celebrated the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I recall with fondness their expressions of love for the Lord and commitment to the faith. That Holy Week in 2006 was like a retreat for me. And with that third trip, I was enamored by this Diocese.

While serving at St. Rose of Lima Parish, I was contacted by a fine minister from a nearby Christian congregation with the invitation to participate in the Ecumenical sunrise service on Easter morning in the community park next to the bay. He was very gracious in extending the invitation when he learned that there was a Catholic priest in town. The invitation was for me to offer the opening prayer for the sunrise service. I quickly said ‘yes’ to the opportunity. To this day, I still have that prayer in my breviary (book of daily prayers) as a remembrance of that Holy Week and the grace filled moments of proclaiming Christ as our Risen Lord.

With this, my fourth trip, I come with joy as the bishop-elect of the Diocese of Juneau. I look forward to working with the priests of this Diocese. I called all the priests this morning before this press conference to promise them my support and prayers as we work together in preaching the word and providing the sacraments for the people of God.

To the deacons, the religious men and women in consecrated life, those in formation for ordained ministry, the lay ecclesial ministers of the Diocese, and to all the faithful of this local Church of Juneau, I am so glad to be with you and I am humbled by the call to be your Bishop – to lead and to serve you.
PHOTO: Diocese of Juneau