Father William A. Burns, pastor of St. Anthony’s Parish in Elmira from
1953-77, died on Aug. 20, 2003, at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Elmira. He
Father Burns was born in Kansas City, Mo., but spent most of his
childhood in Elmira. He grew up in St. Patrick’s Parish in Elmira,
attending its school as well as Ss. Peter and Paul School and Elmira
Free Academy. He also studied at St. Andrew’s and St. Bernard’s
seminaries in Rochester and at Niagara University in Niagara Falls,
Father Burns was ordained on June 10, 1933, by Bishop Emmet M.
Walsh, bishop of Charleston, S.C., in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in
Rochester. He served as assistant pastor at St. Monica’s Parish in
Rochester from 1933-35; taught at Aquinas Institute in Rochester from
1935-36; and served as vice principal of Elmira Catholic High School
from 1936-37, then as the school’s principal from 1937-53.
In 1953, he was named pastor of St. Anthony’s in Elmira, retiring in
1977. Early in his pastorate, he also taught Christian ethics at Elmira
In a 1998 interview with the Catholic Courier for an article
marking his 65th anniversary as a priest, Father Burns noted that when
he first came to St. Anthony’s, he was only supposed to fill in briefly
until the Italian-American parish found an Italian priest.
“But I was not unfamiliar with the Elmira area, and I was welcomed
with that same warm-hearted Italian flavor,” he said. “They changed my
name to Father Bruno,” he added with a chuckle. “It was a spiritual joy
ride for 24 years.”
At St. Anthony’s, Father Burns also served as chaplain of the
Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Daughters of America of Elmira.
Following retirement, Father Burns moved to Ss. Peter and Paul
Parish in Elmira, and lived there until 1981 when he took up residence
at St. James Church in Waverly. One of his closest friends there was
the parish’s secretary and bookkeeper from 1978-2002, Sharon Lovell.
She said Father Burns knew the history of the Diocese of Rochester well
and also knew how to make people laugh.
“He had a wonderful wit, a very dry sense of humor,” Lovell said of
Father Burns. “For many years, he used to be asked to emcee many
priests’ jubilee (celebrations).”
Father Burns is survived by several cousins, including Nancy
(Michael) Yonko; Jeremiah (Rose) Keefe; Mary Catherine (John) Wright;
and Mary Baker, all of Elmira; John (Sonya) Murphy of Rochester; Paul
(Jean) O’Neill of Marco Island, Fla.; Julie Sheehan of Florida; James
Carden of Montana; and Janice Moir of Hawley, Pa.
Bishop Matthew H. Clark presided at a funeral Mass for Father Burns
at St. Patrick’s Church in Elmira on Aug. 22. Interment took place at
Ss. Peter and Paul Cemetery, Elmira.