Sometimes you find your place and your peace where you least expect it. Former Heidelberg Campus Minister Sister Margaret Slowick remembers getting ready for Catholic Mass in Herbster Chapel one Sunday back in the early ’90s.
“I remember he was at the altar, setting things up for that evening’s Mass. He looked so natural and at home in that setting, something told me he had a vocation to be a priest,” she said. “So I asked him if he had ever considered it.”
Ed Burns, ’95, shrugged it off. He had an idea that he’d like to become a communication professor. After all, that’s one of the options his communication/theatre arts major at Heidelberg prepared him to do. He did, in fact, teach at Northern Kentucky University for a short time, but decided the idea and the reality just didn’t line up. A sales job wasn’t a good fit either.
“I was in my early 20s, trying to figure out where I was being called, where my gifts would take me, where I would be able to contribute something,” Burns recalled. As he took stock of his life, he realized what was missing was his connection to his faith. And he remembered that question Sister Margaret asked a few years back. “I remember thinking that maybe the church would help me get to the point of making a decision.”
Ironically, Sister Margaret wasn’t the only person who envisioned Burns in the priesthood. Years later, as he was serving on a number of committees in his parish and participating in a retreat, he asked for prayers for discernment. In what would prove to be a case of “be careful what you wish for,” that priesthood question came up again. By that time, he had enrolled in a couple of seminary classes to study Scripture when the proverbial light bulb went off. Burns had his “oh dear!” moment.
In 1998, he began full-time seminary studies, graduating in 2004 with his Master of Divinity degree from The Athenaeum of Ohio in Cincinnati, near his home. He was ordained into the priesthood later that year. From 2004-18, Burns served as the Catholic campus minister at Wright State University in Dayton. “I loved being back on a college campus,” he said. “I loved working with young people, answering their questions or guiding them to the answers. I was privileged to be there.”
But the time came to focus his energy on a new challenge – serving a parish. Burns was assigned to St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Sharonville, Ohio. Today, he is the pastor and the only priest, overseeing a parish community of 1,600 families, a staff of eight and a K-8 school of 400 students that is soon to expand. Although his workload as pastor has multiplied, Burns enjoys interacting with all age groups and life stages, fulfilling spiritual needs from baptisms to anointing of the sick and everything in between. The youngest parishioners have a special place in his heart. “I really love the elementary school,” he said. “The children have such great energy and enthusiasm.”
Their zest is matched by their pastor – a necessity with his very full schedule of planning Masses, staff meetings, various appointments with parishioners, spending time at the school and writing his weekly sermons. St. Michael the Archangel is currently celebrating its centennial anniversary, so there are events to plan and attend, too.
He wouldn’t have it any other way. Within a couple of years, Burns will become pastor of a second parish of 500 families and a second school. Although a retired priest currently assists with parish duties, Burns is hoping to add an associate pastor. Although he’s figured out the routine, Burns is continually challenged by meeting the spiritual needs of such a large parish. “We have people all over the spectrum … white collar and blue collar, all in a different place with their faith,” he said. “I’m just trying to be a good pastor to everyone.”
Doubt creeps in now and then, but that’s normal – a sign that he’s only human. Frequently, he’s drawn from his experience as a ‘Berg undergrad. Liberal arts-focused skills such as giving a speech, self expression through the written and spoken word, even acting, have eased his comfort level at the altar. “I know how to be present in front of a large group of people,” Burns said. “I think every priest should take some acting,” he joked.
“All in all, I think I’m doing what I have been called to do.”
Last year, he answered a call of a different kind, still with service as its premise, when he began a three-year term on Heidelberg’s Alumni Council. “This seemed like an excellent way to give something back to my alma mater which gave so much to me. I have long wanted to get back on campus more often,” he said.
Burns brings enthusiasm, a knowledge of higher education, a willingness to be engaged and to engage other alumni, and the gift of friendship to the council. His Heidelberg education was life changing, and he wants that same experience for future generations.
“The gift of the education that I got at Heidelberg was so much more than just a degree,” he said.
Life has a way of bringing people full circle, back to their roots. When Burns walked into College Hall (now University Hall) for his campus visit more than 25 years ago, he thought to himself, “Oh, I really like this place.” It was a feeling that told him Heidelberg was the place he should be – much like that intuitive feeling that Sister Margaret had all those years ago about the student who would one day become a priest.
She was right all along.