Washington, DC - - Renowned Jesuit scholar and preacher and winner of FADICA’s Distinguished Catholic Leadership Award for his work to improve the quality of preaching in American parishes, died February 16, 2008 of natural causes.
Francis J. Butler, FADICA’s president said, “We have lost one of the most influential spiritual leaders of our day, a priest of uncommon zeal for the Word of God.”
Father Burghardt, a patristic scholar who taught at Woodstock College, Catholic University, Union Theological Seminary, and Princeton, was the editor of Theological Studies and a prolific spiritual writer.
In 1990 Father Burghardt became a Senior Fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, where he began a national effort to improve preaching on issues of social justice.
In 1989, Father Burghardt addressed the members of FADICA on the state of parish preaching in a national symposium entitled: To Proclaim the Faith. He urged greater efforts to move preaching from “scholarly abstractness to works and symbols that speak to the heart of our age and to the experience of our people”.
The influence of Father Burghardt’s words upon the foundation community led to a collaborative effort soon thereafter among FADICA’s foundations to work with the Weston Jesuit School of Theology to set higher standards for seminary homiletics.
A multi-year program at Weston was funded by FADICA members to improve course work in homiletics within American seminaries and to work directly with seminary faculty to build up course offerings. The curricula piloted through the project eventually became part of the official program for priestly formation adopted by the American bishops.
In 1991 FADICA conferred its highest award on Father Burghardt to celebrate his distinguished contribution to preaching and to his remarkable service to the church.
At a FADICA dinner in at the Willard Hotel honoring the Jesuit scholar, the President of the Weston Jesuit school, Fr. Edward M. O’Flaherty, S.J. announced that Weston would recognize Fr. Burghardt’s leadership in preaching by attaching his name to the new program for seminary homiletics teachers designating these participants as Burghardt Scholars.
In presenting FADICA’s DCLA to Father Burghardt, FADICA board member, Denise M. Hatter of the Loyola Foundation said, “We are here to express our respect and appreciation to one individual whose hard work and imagination gives witness to the love he has for the people of God and the passion he has for the Word of God.”
A funeral mass will be celebrated on Wednesday, February 20, at Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown. Donations to the “Preaching the Just Word” program at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University are being requested as an appropriate memorial to the late Father Walter J. Burghardt, S.J.