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Father John Burkhard, OFM Conv.
Spiritual Testimony ~ January 2020
My name is John Jude Burkhard, a 79-year old friar of Our Lady of Angels Province. My middle name was given to me in honor of a Conventual Franciscan priest in the then Immaculate Conception Province who was a close friend of our family. My father was very formative of my faith life and accompanied me to Mass every Sunday. Later in life, my mother, too, challenged me to be more well-rounded and less rigidly demanding of others. I cannot claim that I have always measured up to her advice, but I keep trying. Since we worshipped at Our Lady of Angels Church in Albany, New York, ably and lovingly staffed by the Conventual Franciscans, and since we four children attended the parochial school of the same parish selflessly staffed by the Franciscan Sisters of Syracuse, I suppose my joining the Conventual Franciscans was somewhat providentially “predestined.” Be that as it may, I have never regretted this “destiny.”
I entered the seminary in my sophomore year of high school at the ripe age of 15. As strange as it might seem nowadays, in the Church of my youth before Vatican II it was not so unusual. My pastor, Fr. Denis Gallagher had encouraged my vocation by the novel tactic of teaching me Latin beginning in the seventh grade. Every week I would report to the rectory for a lesson. In this way, too, I got to know the other friars who also encouraged my fledgling vocation. The excellent education I received in the Order’s high school, junior college, and college imparted a life-long love of learning I have never regretted and has set me on my path to higher studies and a teaching career as a friar-priest. The Order permitted me to study theology abroad in Innsbruck, Austria, and Strasbourg, France. These two universities, my fellow students there, and the opportunity to meet Conventual friars and members of other religious communities on an international level were seminal experiences in my life.
Equipped with the appropriate degrees and formed by temperament to teach, research, and write, I have spent the last 53 years pursuing the passion of my life. I have never doubted or regretted my ministry as a teacher, but have rejoiced in God’s gifts to me and in the Order’s generosity and confidence in me by fostering my academic talents and propensities. I have taught at our Conventual Seminary of St. Anthony-on-Hudson, Rensselaer, New York, at St. Peter’s Regional Seminary, Cape Coast, Ghana, West Africa, and at the Washington Theological Union, Washington, D.C. I have always wanted nothing more than to teach my confreres, so anything beyond that goal has simply been a serendipitous blessing. I have had the joy and honor of knowing so many dedicated and outstanding men in the Order, not to mention the many fine lay men and women I have been blessed to have as students as well. An added joy of my life has been my activity as a translator, making theology originally in German and French available in English to others. Somewhere along my life’s journey I discovered that I actually love languages, classical and modern. Now in my final years as a retired professor, I continue to have the privilege of living with our young friars in formation in Silver Spring, Maryland. I often think of the fine example of so many of my Conventual teachers, directors of formation, staff, residents, and my fellow students in our seminary system, and I am profoundly grateful.
I have no particular spiritual wisdom to impart to our friars in formation or to prospective applicants to the Order except for the admonition to identify and accept your talents, thank God daily for them, develop them humanly with the help of the Order, and generously put them at the service of the Church’s universal mission. If you do this, your dreams and your life will be richly rewarded. I know mine have been!