Newly Ordained Priest Dies Before Celebrating Mass

2001 News

By Paul Ruppel

Staff Writer

The Doylestown Record (Reprinted with permission)

MONTGOMERY TWP., PENNSYLVANIA — A Mass of Thanksgiving became a memorial Mass this weekend when a priest with local ties died the morning after being ordained in the Roman Catholic Church.

The Rev. Robert D. Burns, Jr., 56, died Sunday morning at the Mary, Mother of the Redeemer Rectory. He was to celebrate Mass with family and friends that afternoon in the church.

The cause of death wasn’t immediately released.

Born in Abington, Burns was a 1962 graduate of Bishop McDevitt High School. He entered the Navy, later joined the Marines and served in Vietnam as a corpsman during the war. He received the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and other medals and honors.

He was a teacher and served as principal at St. Gabriel’s Hall in Audubon from 1984 to 1998, when he entered Saint Vincent Seminary in Latrobe. He was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Harrisburg on Saturday at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in a Mass concelebrated by Bishop Nicholas C. Dattilo.

Burns desired all his life to become a priest, said the Rev. Philip C. Ricci, pastor at Mary, Mother of the Redeemer. He was to be assigned to a parish in Harrisburg.

“He was a man of many skills, many talents,” Ricci said. “He could pick up anything and fix it. He was a good listener, and a mentor to teen-agers who talked to them, listened to them and guided them.”

With many of Burns’ family and friends already in town, the 2:30 p.m. service that was to be a celebration of his joining the priesthood was transformed into a Mass to remember and give thanks for his life, Ricci said.

“It’s very sad,” Ricci said. “And yet the way we celebrated on Sunday was a tribute to the priesthood as we lifted Father Burns up to be a priest forever in the eternity of God’s love.”

Twenty-year-old Daniel Kredensor, who met Burns at the church some eight years ago, called Burns the “catalyst” toward his own entering the seminary. He’ll begin his studies at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia in August.

Kredensor recalled his friend as “a very easy-going guy” who was very holy and loved God.

“He helped me through a lot of challenges in my teen-age life,” Kredensor said. “He just really knew what teen-agers needed and what struggles were ahead of them in life. . . He was a beacon of light and hope for everyone he met.”

Burns was the brother of Edward C. Burns of Roslyn, Elizabeth C. Capaldi of Dresher, Sharon Fitzpatrick of Montgomeryville and Robin Burns of Hendersonville, N.C.


From The Catholic Witness, Harrisburg Diocesan newspaper, June 15, 2001.

Father Robert Burns, Jr., died in his sleep June 3, in North Wales, Pa. He was 56 years old. The cause of death is not yet known.

Father Burns had been ordained to the priesthood for the Harrisburg Diocese the previous day by Bishop Nicholas Dattilo at St. Patrick Cathedral, Harrisburg. He was to have celebrated his first Mass as a priest on June 3 in the afternoon, at Mary, Mother of the Redeemer Church, North Wales, his home parish. His first assignment was to have been as parochial vicar at St. Leo the Great Parish, Rohrerstown.

Born in Philadelphia in 1944, Father Burns was the son of the late Robert Burns, Sr., and the late Cecelia (Burns) Walsh. He is survived by his stepfather Edward Walsh, two sisters and a brother.

Father Burns received his elementary education in Glenside, Pa., and attended Bishop McDevitt High School in Wyncote, Pa. He attended Chatfield College in St. Martin, Ohio, and earned a bachelor’s degree in history and secondary education from Edgecliff College of Xavier University in Ohio. He continued studies in the field of education at Gwynedd Mercy College, Gwynedd Valley, Pa.; La Salle University, Philadelphia; and Penn State University. He was a veteran of the Vietnam War.

Following a career in education that included teaching and school administration, Father Burns felt the call of a priestly vocation. He completed his priestly formation at Saint Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, Pa., where he earned a Master of Divinity degree.

As part of his seminary formation, Father Burns served during two summers at Seven Sorrows BVM Parish, Middletown, and Prince of Peace Parish, Steelton. He was ordained a transitional deacon by Bishop Dattilo on May 20, 2000, and during the summer that followed, he served at Divine Redeemer Parish, Mount Carmel.

Commenting on the loss, Bishop Dattilo said: “Father Burns’ death stunned us all. It seems so untimely, but our faith tells us something else. It tells us that he wanted to become a priest and that God allowed his dream to come true.

“On June 2 he was ordained a priest and celebrated Mass with his bishop and fellow priests in the presence of his family and friends. In retrospect, what a wonderful preparation for heaven.”

Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated June 7 at Mary, Mother of the Redeemer Church in North Wales. Burial was in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Cheltenham, Pa.