Died 2 February 2014
Jesuit Father Vincent M. Burns died Feb. 2, 2014. He was born on Oct. 17, 1922, in Boston. His father was John J. Burns and his mother was Mary K. Mortimer, both born in Ireland. Fr. Burns grew up in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston and attended the highly selective Boston Latin School, graduating in 1940. He enrolled at Boston College and graduated in 1944. He wanted to do graduate studies in English. Because the war had severely impacted faculty numbers at B.C. and many of the Jesuits were serving as military chaplains, he was able to find jobs teaching Latin and English at B.C., as well as at Assumption College, while he pursued his master’s degree at B.C., which he received in 1948.
He entered the Society that year, at Shadowbrook in Lenox, Mass., following in the footsteps of his younger brother Austin (Gus), who had entered the year before.
After he took first vows in 1950, he skipped the juniorate and went directly to Weston for philosophy studies. Two years later, he was sent to Beirut, Lebanon. The French-speaking Jesuits there had asked for English teachers and because of the well-established presence of New England Jesuits in nearby Baghdad the province obliged, sending scholastics who knew some French, as Fr. Burns did. He taught first at St. Joseph’s University for a year and then for another year at College Notre Dame de Jamhour. He returned to Weston in 1954 to study theology and was ordained to the priesthood in 1957.
During theology studies he developed an interest in moral theology and the new approaches to pastoral questions in the area of ethics. He did a certificate program in alcoholism at Yale, which in those days was pioneering a medical approach to this disease. Province superiors were encouraging talented younger men to do advanced degrees in theology with a view to energizing the Weston faculty and, after tertianship in Pomfret, Conn., Fr. Burns was sent to the Gregorian University in Rome to do doctoral studies in moral theology. He returned to Weston as a faculty member in 1961 and taught there for the next four years (in 1964-65 he was visiting professor at St. Mary’s, Kansas, then the theologate of the Missouri Province).
In 1965 Fr. Burns was assigned to Fairfield University, where he found a home. He taught moral theology specializing in bioethics for the next 45 years. He became chair of the religious studies department and served in this position for 15 years until 1983. He was visiting professor at St. Michael’s Seminary in Jamaica in 1974 and a visiting research fellow at the Kennedy Center for Bioethics in Washington, D.C., in 1978. He lived in Campion Residence Hall on the Fairfield campus and became a much-loved figure there, saying Masses for residents and counseling generations of students. He lectured often in local parishes and acquired a large circle of friends among the wider Fairfield community, to whom he was an informal pastor.
He moved to Campion Center in 2011. His physical health declined but mentally he was still capable of doing the Times crossword puzzle. He died peacefully on Feb. 2, 2014. In addition to his many Jesuit brothers, Fr. Burns is survived by his niece Mary Katherine Kerrigan.