‘Look to the world with Christ’s loving gaze,’ new leader tells professors, seminarians and staff as Sacred Heart’s 102nd year begins
DETROIT — On Sept. 10, Fr. Stephen Burr was installed as the 14th rector of Sacred Heart Major Seminary.
And while he is tasked with having the vision to lead the school as it begins its 102nd year of operation, it is Christ’s vision, Christ’s perspective, and Christ’s mission that guides southeast Michigan’s Catholic seminary.
Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron celebrated Mass and installed Fr. Burr during a liturgy at Sacred Heart’s chapel, where Fr. Burr professed the faith and an oath of a fidelity to the teachings and magisterium of the Church.
Archbishop Vigneron said it is Christ’s mission Fr. Burr is fulfilling — a mission, Fr. Burr said, he does not take lightly in leading the formation of the next generation of priests and leaders of the Church.
“It’s a privilege to serve as the rector,” Fr. Burr said during his homily.
The ministry, he added, is not a form of service he aspired to, but “in what is now my 14th year of active ministry at the seminary, I feel I know this building and most of you,” Fr. Burr said. “And I can promise in this role in ministry, I will care for all of you.”
The annual Mass of the Holy Spirit served as a kickoff for the new academic year at Sacred Heart, where Fr. Burr previously served as vice rector under Msgr. Todd Lajiness.
Fr. Burr used his homily to speak directly to the professors, staff, seminarians and students of Sacred Heart about their purpose at the seminary: to see the faithful with Christ’s eyes.
Fr. Burr preached on the seventh chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, in which Christ instructs his disciples to “remove the wooden beam from you eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.” Fr. Burr implored the seminary community to look at each student and member of the community with a “loving gaze.”
“Are we viewing ourselves and other individuals with a charitable gaze?” Fr. Burr asked. “Are we blind and prefer blindness in order not to address a gross reality? Are we harsh and overly critical in what we observe with our eyes? Jesus, in preaching to His gathered audience, shows us how pride is acting without love; it hurts others and harms us. Jesus doesn’t want us to trap ourselves with inflated egos. He wants us to see clearly.”
Fr. Burr said it’s the seminary’s role to provide that vision of Christ to its students so they can fulfill his mission.
“The clearest vision we can have of ourselves is through Jesus Christ,” Fr. Burr said. “He provides deep insight and self-knowledge into our lives. Seeing clearly with the vision of Jesus will show ourselves more clearly. St. Peter shows us this; he had every right to feel unworthy, falling at the feet of Jesus and saying, ‘Away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man,’ after the catch of fish that filled the boats. He felt unworthy of such a great gift. He was. And so are we.”
That unworthiness is all the more reason for Sacred Heart to give God thanks and praise with a Mass to begin the new academic year, Fr. Burr said, allowing for staff, both returning and new, to re-orientate their mission to Christ’s mission.
Following Fr. Burr’s installation, four new Sacred Heart professors — Fr. Stephen Pullis, Fr. Andrew Mabee, Oana Gotia, Ph.D., and Andre Villeneuve, Ph.D. — made a profession of faith and took an oath of fidelity to the rector, promising to uphold the doctrines and teachings of the Catholic faith.
Sacred Heart professors who knew Fr. Burr in his role as vice rector said he has the proper disposition to lead the seminary, particularly focusing on his calm, thoughtful demeanor.
“Fr. Burr really always exhibited a great restfulness and composure and peace about his person,” Donald Wallenfang, Ph.D., professor of philosophy and theology at Sacred Heart, told Detroit Catholic. “I think he always makes you feel at ease when you are around him. He’s very pastorally minded and always thinking about the welfare of the seminary and its daily work.”
Fr. John McDermott, SJ, professor of theology, has worked with Fr. Burr since the new rector was on the formation team. He said Fr. Burr has plenty of qualities that will help him in his new position.
“It helps to be intelligent, but he’s also pious and patient, very observant,” Fr. McDermott said. “As a rector, he maintains the orthodox faith, and that’s really what professors look for in a rector. Fr. Burr takes things calmly, puts everything in its place and put everything in the perspective of God. He is here to serve the community.”
Finishing his homily, Fr. Burr reminded professors and instructors in the congregation that when fully formed, students will become like their teachers, so it is incumbent upon professors and teachers to be filled with God’s mercy.
“Tear down the beams in your own eyes and look with a gaze at your students, whom Christ has called you to see,” Fr. Burr said. “When we start the academic year, we’re called to observe the world, to notice the splinters, but to look within to pray for God’s mercy.”
Watch the Mass
To view a recording of the Mass of the Holy Spirit at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, visit the seminary’s Facebook page.