Walter J. Burghardt, SJ, R.I.P.

This is a long post, but a few commentators have asked about the news of the death, this weekend, of Walter J. Burghardt, S.J., the great theologian, writer and well-known preacher. Here is the official obituary from the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus, which does a fine job of summing up a rich life in dedicated service to the Society of Jesus, to the church, and to God. His funeral Mass will be celebrated on Wednesday at 7:00 PM at Holy Trinity Church in Washington, D.C.; with the burial at 10:00 AM on Thursday at the Woodstock Jesuit Cemetery in Woodstock, Maryland. AMDG. Funeral services are set for Father Walter J. Burghardt, a renowned Jesuit theologian considered one of the premier preachers in the Catholic Church. A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered on Wednesday, Feb. 20, at 7 p.m. at Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown (Washington, D.C.) with burial the following day at Woodstock Jesuit Cemetery. Fr. Burghardt died Feb. 16, at Manresa Hall, the infirmary of the Maryland Province in Merrion Station, Pa. He was 93. He was born in New York July 10, 1914, the son of European immigrants John and Mary Krupp Burghardt. He credited his father with teaching him the value of justice. When young Walter announced he wanted to be a Jesuit, his father replied, "If that’s what you want, then be a good one." He had one brother, the late Edward Burghardt. A Jesuit for 77 years, he earned his Masters degree as well as licentiates in both philosophy and sacred theology at the former Woodstock College near Baltimore, where he was ordained a priest in 1941. Fr. Burghardt received his doctorate in sacred theology from the Catholic University of American in 1957. He taught historical theology for 32 years at Woodstock College. He ws also a professor at Catholic University and a visiting lecturer at Union Theological Seminary in New York City as well as Princeton Theological Seminary. Editor in chief of the journal Theological Studies for 23 years, he was until recently on the staff of Woodstock Theological Center in Washington as a senior fellow and as director of the WTC project "Preaching the Just Word." Fr. Burghardt was the author of more than 300 articles in journals as varied as the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Our Sunday Visitor, Variety and America. He was perhaps best known for his many books on preaching. He published more than 25 books over the past 50 years. His most recent book was Justice: A Global Adventure, published by Orbis Books in 2004. He also published a memoir in 2000, Long Have I Loved You: A Theologian Reflects on His Church, which was awarded first prize by the Catholic Press Association. "Walter’s ministry as a Jesuit apostle on a variety of levels was impressive, successful and certainly prolific," recalled Fr. Timothy B. Brown, SJ, Maryland Jesuit Provincial. "Through his extensive writings and profound preaching and breaking open God’s word, he touched the lives of many people through his long years of service to the Church and the Society of Jesus." " ’Sitting at the feet’ of a master preacher to see in person the art and the craft of preaching was so inspiring," recalled the Rev. Brian Cavanaugh, T.O.R., who worked with Fr. Burghardt on his books on preaching for Paulist Press. "His words of wisdom will be missed by all his fans. I’ll never forget his advice to me: ’Never settle for a good word when the best word is better.’ I got a better thesaurus," Fr. Cavanaugh said. Baltimoreans may recall his radio program in the 1950s heard on the former WWIN. He was also featured on the Catholic Hour on NBC in 1959 and 1964. He was listed in "Best Easter Sermons" in LIFE magazine on Easter, 1957. Because of his preaching style, Fr. Burghardt was featured in the Odyssey Channel’s series "Great Preachers" in 1998. In the 25-minute film, he preaches on social justice. Fr. Burghardt worked tirelessly for Christian unity. Among his many memberships were the Academic Council of the Ecumenical Institute for Advanced Theological Studies in Jerusalem, the Baltimore Archdiocesan Commission for Christian Unity, the U.S. Dialogue Group of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Conversations and the North American Academy of Ecumenists of which he was president. He held 21 honorary degrees from Catholic universities all over the country, from the University of Notre Dame to St. Thomas University in New Brunswick, Canada, to Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash. He was honored for his scholarship and his service many times. Among his honors were the Cardinal Spellman Award for outstanding contributions to sacred theology in 1962, to the Twelve Most Effective Preachers Medallion from Baylor University in 1996 to the Distinguished Service award from Washington Theological Union in 2002. Fr. Burghardt was also given the award for "exemplary contributions to the life and ministry of preaching by the Catholic Coalition on Preaching in 2002" which then named the annual award in his honor. "Love God above all else. Love every human being--friend or enemy--like another self as a child of God, especially those who are on the lower edge of society," Fr. Burghardt once said. "Touch the earth, God’s material creation--nuclear energy or a blade of grass--with respect. With reverence as a gift of God." Burial for Fr. Burghardt will be held Thursday, Feb. 21 at 10 a.m. at the Woodstock Jesuit Cemetery in Woodstock, Md. In Lieu of Flowers, donations may be sent to Preaching the Just Word, Woodstock Theological Center, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057–1137. James Martin, S.J.
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11 years 4 months ago
Thank you, Fr. Martin, for this post about the death of one of the most eloquent, passionate, and prophetic voices of our times. We are diminished by his death, but incredibly enriched by his life and his life's work that will happily survive him. Fr. Burghardt may have been "near blind" toward the end of his life, but I could only wish that his vision were more widespread in our ever-narrowing church. "I heard a voice from heaven say, 'Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.' 'Yes,' said the Spirit, 'let them find rest from their labors, for their works accompany them.'" (Rev. 14:13).
11 years 4 months ago
He welcomed me as a freshman to Georgetown 27 years ago, he married us and baptized our children into the Church-- I will always associate him with the most memorable days of my life. He was a great man filled with life and vision to the very end
11 years 3 months ago
The funeral at Holy Trinity was a joyous eucharist with Jesuits and diocesan and religious from academia and parishes joining Walter's family and Trinity parishioners and many others to listen to Walter's choice of Micah 6 and Matthew 25. Jim Connor's homily describes some of Walter's gifts and many of those whose marriages he witnessed told stories into the night of his love for them over the years. Marian Wright Edelman, founder of Children's Defense Fund said "I had to be here. His annual homilies for our CDF Sundays were clarion calls to justice." John Carr of the USCCB who worked with Walter in his 'Preaching the Just Word' retreats said "Walter lives in the homilies preached across the country by those who love the Gospel." I presided and hope that Walter will live through Woodstock's continued sponsorship of 'Preaching the Just Word' and our work on behalf of justice.


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