Now as the program coordinator in the Center for Mission and Identity, Burns leads student retreats, guides faculty and staff through the Spiritual Exercises, and prepares the blessings for special celebrations, like groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings. Burns entered the Jesuit order in Warnersville, Pa., in 1963 expecting to leave after a few months. But he fell in love with the lifestyle and stayed for a lifetime, following his desire to become a Jesuit brother.
“A priest is very sacramental oriented, but as a brother, I am freer to be a member of the educational apostolate. Also I like the idea that people call me brother rather than father. I see a father as a more authority figure and brother as a more supportive person or equal. Brothers and priests take the same perpetual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
“I grew up in Muse, Pa., a coalmining town in western Pennsylvania owned by U.S. Steel. While at Immaculate Conception High School, I would write to different orders exploring the idea of becoming a priest, and when the fliers came, I threw them away—except for the Jesuits. There was something about the Jesuits that attracted me. They did so many things—mission work, teaching, cooking—that wasn’t going on with the other orders.
“I entered the Jesuits with the intention of leaving. I didn’t know if God was calling me, so I entered to calm this feeling and when I got over it, I would be able to get on with my life and have a family. But I found everything clicked. I was at peace.
“After two years at the novitiate, I came to the juniorate in Milford, Ohio, and took courses there and at Xavier. I graduated in 1970 with degrees in communication arts and theater, and got a Master of Arts in theater from Case Western Reserve University and a Master of Arts in theology from Xavier.
“I chose theater because we participate in the creative power of God. I taught theater in Baltimore then came to Xavier in 1985 to teach theater.
“As dean of students at Edgecliff, I oversaw the closing of Edgecliff. For some, it was a very difficult time because they were leaving a very beautiful location. For others it was an opportunity for growth. In the end, Xavier saved the music, art, nursing, criminal justice and mortuary
“Then I went to Loyola High School in Baltimore as the chaplain but came back to Xavier in 2006. Now I am also master of ceremonies for most of the liturgies such as the Spirit Celebration and the Baccalaureate Mass. Wherever the president presides, I’m there. I write all the blessing prayers. And I carry the holy water. The water is from the Bellarmine Chapel baptism bowl and is already blessed.
“I go on silent retreats with students. I’m also directing faculty and staff through the entire Spiritual Exercises. It takes from September through May. Normally there are five hours of prayer each day over 30 days, but not everyone can go away for 30 days. Ignatius came up with this bright idea to spread it out over time, and it’s one reason the exercises have remained such a vital tool. It’s so adaptable.
“I meet with individuals for an hour each week. I help them understand that God loves us totally for who and what we are, not for what we do.”