The Catholic Post interviews silver jubilarian Father John Burns

A native of Moline, Father Burns attended Alleman High School in Rock Island. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in economics from St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa.

He studied for the priesthood at Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut, graduating with master of arts and master of divinity degrees. After ordination, he served as parochial vicar at Holy Cross, Champaign.

Father Burns was named pastor of St. John the Evangelist, Walnut, and Immaculate Conception, Ohio, in 1993; St. Francis, Kewanee, and St. John Vianney, Cambridge, in 1996; and St. Mary, East Moline, in 2003. He has been pastor of St. John the Evangelist in Galva, St. John the Apostle in Woodhull, and St. John Vianney in Cambridge since 2005.

Mail for Father Burns may be sent to St. John the Apostle Church, 390 E. Highway Ave., P.O. Box 249, Woodhull, IL 61490.

What drew you to the priesthood?
When I was attending Mass as a second-grader at St. Mary School in Moline, it seemed one day that Father Enos Barnes turned around at the altar, with his cancerous voice, and just looked at me in the pew. It was like he wanted me to follow him some day. In high school, I would go frequently to St. Mary Church at night to pray. Often the priests would ask me to leave because it was getting late. I then would go to the top of Velie Hill and look over the city of Moline . . . to see what I was called to do. . . .

Who has been the biggest influence on your vocation?
Archbishop Fulton Sheen in his “Life is Worth Living” TV series, and Father Edward Flanagan of Boys Town, which I visited with my father when I was 11 years old.

How are you a different priest today than you were 25 years ago and why?
As an assistant priest at Holy Cross Church, Champaign, Father (Richard) Mullen gave me free reign to work with school children. I tried to inspire them and teach them many things. Today as a pastor, I have to balance my time with people of all ages.

What has given you the most joy in your priesthood?
Coming to know so many people that, as I said to a young man asking me why I stopped to talk to him, “Well, it is because some day I truly hope to be in heaven with all the saints and it would take an eternity to get to know them all. By talking to you now and getting to know you, I save some time.”

What have been the highlights of your various assignments?
There were situations in some of the parishes, like finance, which, with my experience at John Deere Harvester and college courses in accounting, I could help to bring financial stability to.

Talk about your prayer life — what feeds you for ministry?
The Legion of Little Souls that my sister Teresa is director of . . . knowing that countless people are praying for me, always.

How has priestly ministry changed in the last generation?
Priests today have to be involved in the community, to be a leader. Priests must also be true evangelists, which is the great emphasis of recent popes. Let people see you and how you live as a priest in the simplicity of life.

What Scripture passage sums up your ministry?
Matthew 19:21-22: “Go sell what you have and give to the poor. . . . Then come, follow me.” I left behind a house in Bettendorf, friends, another vocation, with no turning back.

What advice would you give someone who is discerning a vocation to the priesthood?
Simplicity. Don’t seek special assignments, big parishes, publicity. Be a “Little Soul.” Like St. John Vianney you may be sent to a tiny place like Ars, France. The world will know you in your humility.

Name your favorite saint (and tell us why).
St. John Vianney, Pope St. John Paul II, St. Francis. It’s about the simple life.

Favorite prayer?
The rosary.

Favorite hymn?
“Ave Maria” in the 1940 movie, “Fantasia.”

Favorite encyclical/papal document/church teaching?
“Humanae Vitae” (“On the Regulation of Birth”)

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