Fifty years is a nice round number for a priestly career.
Msgr. Paul J.E. Burkard, will celebrate his golden anniversary in the priesthood on May 12, and begin easing into retirement. The longtime pastor of Our Lady of Victory Basilica, rector of OLV Shrine and president of Our Lady of Victory Institutions will pass the torch to Msgr. David G. LiPuma, currently pastor of St. Peter Parish in Lewiston. Msgr. Burkard will remain at the Lackawanna church for the near future.
"I think I can be in residence and not be pastor easily," he said with a smile.
Msgr. Burkard grew up attending St. Mary Parish in Swormville, a small rural German parish with a strong support for vocations. It gave him a "personal desire to serve the Church" that led him to St. John Vianney Seminary in East Aurora.
"I came from a family of very deep faith," he said. "I think a family very much influenced by the presence of St. John Neumann in the area. He used to say Mass in the home of my great-great-great-great-grandfather. He strengthened the faith of the family."
That influence reached far beyond Msgr. Burkard. His sister Patricia is a Sister of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities, and he can count several cousins who are priests, and members of religious communities.
"The examples of the priests at my parish helped me see that priests could affect a lot of good things in the lives of people and I wanted to do the same thing," he said.
Although he had thoughts of serving a parish, the bishops who make the assignments had different plans. He did spend the first five years of his ministry at Annunciation Parish in Buffalo. He moved to Ogdensburg for an 11-year run as faculty member and vice rector of Wadham's Hall Seminary College then a stint as vice rector of Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora. He then served as director of Priestly Formation for the Diocese of Buffalo from 1986-96. Finally, after nearly 30 years, Msgr. Burkard was named pastor of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Orchard Park, a position he held until the death of Msgr. Robert Wurtz in 2006, who managed the Our Lady of Victory Institutions created by Msgr. Nelson H. Baker.
Looking back at the past 50 years, Msgr. Burkard labels his priesthood as wonderful and exciting. "I have never asked for an assignment and I've never refused an assignment from a bishop, but every choice the bishops have made on behalf of my ministry have turned out to be wonderful for me," he said.
There are so many things about working on the same grounds as Buffalo's own Padre of the Poor that Msgr. Burkard recalls fondly.
"Certainly being part of the canonization process for Father Baker has to be the highlight of anybody who is involved in that process," he said. "It's such a narrow band of operation in the Church that to be a part of that, to advance the life of a person like Father Baker and hopefully get his presence in front of the universal Church, that's just a wonderful experience.
"The parish life here has been wonderful. We're a very strong parish. The dedication of the people who work at Baker Victory Services and Homes of Charity, those are the highlights of it. It's the personnel in a situation like that that really creates the atmosphere in which the work gets done. Working with those people who are so dedicated, that's the high point of being here."
When asked to name his favorite part of the OLV campus, he quickly names the altar. The tomb of Father Baker ranks a close second.
"My favorite place in the basilica is behind the altar in celebrating Mass, without a doubt. The rest of the basilica holds a nice fond spot in my heart. There's so many nice spots in the basilica," he said.
While he has no immediate plans after his retirement, he will remain close to OLV to help Msgr. LiPuma with the transition of leadership. He will continue to serve as vice postulator for the cause for Father Baker's canonization. He'd also like to get back to his roots in teaching.
"I'm a born teacher. I have chalk blood in my veins," he said. "One of the things I'd like to do while I still have time to do it is to return to some level of ministry formation or education in the diocese, perhaps in the permanent diaconate or one of the lay ministry formation programs. Almost 35 years of my priesthood have been in seminary education or seminary administration. I'd like to go back to that for a while."