Story by Rose O’Connor, Correspondent
“My ministry has been great joy,” Father Michael J. Burns said as he reflected on his retirement after serving the faithful in the Diocese of Trenton during his 44 years of priesthood.
As he departed July 1 from St. Mary Parish, Bordentown, where he was pastor since 1990, and headed to his new residence in Villa Vianney, the diocesan facility for retired priests, Father Burns said, “I’m going to miss the people I’ve come to know and love over the years; I’ll miss celebrating Mass and officiating Sacraments and attending special parish events. I’ve had the opportunity to meet wonderful volunteers over the years through the various parish ministries.”
Noting that he is thankful that he will remain in Mercer County in retirement, Father Burns spoke of having grown up in Hamilton Township. He graduated from St. Raphael School, Hamilton, and Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville.
Father Burns said his priestly vocation developed gradually, especially though the inspiration of two priests – Father Bill Capik, who was a religion instructor and athletic director in Notre Dame High School, and Msgr. Leonard Toomey, who Father Burns came to know through the Mercer County CYO Day Camp in Yardville. At the camp, Father Burns had served as a counselor, and Msgr. Toomey was the CYO founder.
“Both Father Capik and Msgr. Toomey were very positive and exuded much joy as priests,” Father Burns recalled, noting that he arrived at his own decision to pursue a vocation following his college graduation from the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Ind.
Spiritual, Concrete Legacies
Father Burns started preparing for the priesthood in St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology, St. Meinrad, Ind. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Trenton May 26, 1973, by Bishop George W. Ahr in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton.
Upon his ordination, he was assigned to St. Hedwig Parish, Trenton, for four years, then served in St. Paul Parish (now St. Katharine Drexel), Burlington, for eight years, followed by an assignment in Sacred Heart Parish, Trenton, where he remained for five years.
Father Burns was appointed to his first and only pastorate in St. Mary Parish, Bordentown, Sept. 1, 1990, where he served for almost 27 years.
Reflecting on the spiritual offerings and programs he instituted in St. Mary Parish, Father Burns is proud of the restoration and building projects undertaken in the church that has been the spiritual home for generations of Catholic families in the Bordentown area since 1837.
In addition to restoration, Father Burns is also proud of the construction of the parish center, which houses the parish offices, meeting rooms and residences for the priests.
Continued Faith Journeys
In retirement, he plans on remaining active. He said he would like to complete the Camino de Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage in Europe.
“I did the first part last year, which was 175 miles and 13 days of walking, beginning in France over the Pyrenees Mountains and into the northern part of Spain – Pamplona,” he said.
He also looks forward to having more time to read and travel, including the trip to the Holy Land that is planned for priests of the Diocese in January, and is assisting with weekend Masses in two Burlington County parishes.
“God has blessed me with four wonderful parishes” in which to serve as a priest,
he said. “I have really been blessed.”