January 21, 2011

by Most Reverend Edward J. Burns

From my past experiences working as the director of clergy personnel for the diocese of Pittsburgh and serving as the executive director of the Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I have come to know the work of the priest as foundational and paramount for the work of the diocese. When I became the Bishop of the Diocese of Juneau, one of the first major events that occurred soon after my installation was the gathering of priests for their yearly retreat. It was there I indicated that they were a priority to me, as well as my closest collaborators. As I say this, by no means is it meant to minimize the work or the integrity of the other full-time ministers in the diocese, especially our deacons or those in consecrated religious life. What it does, however, is highlight the importance of the sacraments, in particular, the Eucharist.

When I arrived in the Diocese of Juneau two years ago, I was struck by its size and by the fact that our priests are scattered throughout this vast land. In my attempt to bring them closer together, I initiated, with their approval, weekly conference calls on Monday mornings. On these conference calls we have the opportunity to “catch-up” and pray Morning Prayer together. In addition to these weekly conferences, we gather at full-time minister meetings, retreats, and convocations. During these gatherings, we also have the chance to meet as what is known as the ‘presbyteral council,’ to address the business of the Diocese. Another meeting like this will occur before our Chrism Mass which is scheduled for Tuesday, April 12, 2011. When the presbyteral council meetings occur, it is not unlike me to produce a sizeable agenda filled with Diocesan issues. I see this as a chance to maximize my time with the priests. The long agenda, however, has a chilling side effect on some of our priests. I have been asked if it is necessary to do so much business. In order to alleviate this effect, I have resorted to keeping the agenda to myself. In light of this, there has been a request that we spend time together without business related issues being discussed. To this end, the priests of the diocese during this past year went to the state fair in Palmer on the day before our meeting in Anchorage with the priests of the other two dioceses. We are also scheduled for a day together on Wednesday, April 13, 2011 (after the Chrism Mass).

This year we look forward to the priestly ordination of Deacon Steve Gallagher on April 30, 2011. I know that Deacon Steve’s God-given gifts and talents will benefit the work of the diocese. With this ordination, however, we have no one in seminary formation for the Diocese of Juneau. This concerns me greatly and I hope that we can continue to work to create a vocation culture within our parishes and missions. The Knights of Columbus are embarking on priestly vocation efforts that will highlight the missionary and contemplative style of diocesan priesthood in Alaska. We are grateful to them for their assistance.

As many of you know, I have asked one of our priests to step aside from active priestly ministry while the diocese assesses his suitability for ministry. The details of this case are on our website in chronological form. As this was unfolding, I conducted four town-hall meetings. During these meetings I was asked on a couple of occasions, “How can we help our priests?” After much reflection and consultation with the priests of the diocese I would like to respond to that question. Effective immediately, I would like to establish a travel fund for our priests. We are all aware of the cost of travel in Alaska and these costs make up a significant part of our diocesan and parish budget in order to move priests between parishes and missions to celebrate the sacraments as well as bring them together from time to time. The purpose of this fund would be to minimize the isolation of our priests and help them maintain continued contact with brother priests for prayer, ongoing formation, fraternal support and ongoing collaboration. It is my hope that the faithful of the diocese as well as those who receive the Southeast Alaska Catholic (formerly known as The Inside Passage) could respond to this opportunity of assisting with the travel of our priests from one place to another—to serve the people of the Diocese and better equip them in their personal lives to stay strong in living out their vocation as priests of God.