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Fr George Burden, SSJ dies at 81 in Michigan

The Josephites buried a veteran Black priest of their community early this month, the sixth member to pass in the past year.

Fr George Burden, SSJ. (Evans & Browne's Funeral Home)

Fr George Burden II, a veteran African-American priest of St. Joseph’s Society of the Sacred Heart (the Josephites), died on November 26 in his Saginaw, Michigan after an extended illness. He was 81 years old.

His funeral was celebrated there on December 5 at St. Joseph Catholic Church by Josephite superior general Bishop John H. Ricard. Burial took place at Mt. Oliver Cemetery.

“Father Burden was a faithful priest who served as a Josephite for many years,” Ricard told the Josephite Harvest following his passing.

“He had a variety of assignments, all of which were very well received.”

Born in 1941 to Mary Lorraine Rose and George Burden Sr., the younger Burden was raised Catholic in Saginaw following the conversion of his mother. Several other members of his family, including his sister, father, and uncle, also joined the Church.

As a child, Burden altar-served for future-cardinal James A. Hickey, and attended St. Joseph High School. He later matriculated to St. Paul Seminary in 1961, during the early years of diocesan African-American Catholic priests. (Black men had long been banned from most US seminaries, dating back to the colonial era.)  

Burden eventually transferred to St. Joseph’s Industrial School in Clayton, Delaware, an institution founded in 1896 by the Josephites to educate young African-American men. In 1963, Burden became a religious brother in the society and later the school’s founding librarian.

After attending classes at Delaware State College, the local HBCU, Burden taught for several years at St. Joseph’s before moving to New Orleans, a longtime Josephite base. There he attended another HBCU, Xavier University of Louisiana, where he received a bachelor's degree and commenced teaching science at St. Augustine High, the Josephite’s flagship school.

“He was friendly and popular with the students,” said Fr Paul Oberg, another Josephite brother-turned-priest who worked with Burden at St. Augustine.

“He loved teaching, and he was very involved and active in school.”

In the 1980s, after a dozen years of teaching in New Orleans, Burden felt a call to the priesthood and began studies at Notre Dame Seminary. He was one of several Josephite religious brothers to begin pursuing the priesthood at that time, and was ordained by Bishop Carl Fisher, SSJ in 1991.

Burden went on to serve at African-American parishes in New Orleans; Washington, DC; Wilmington, Delaware; Mobile, Alabama; Natchez, Mississippi; and several cities in southeastern Louisiana.

Fr Paul Oberg, SSJ with Fr George Burden, SSJ at St. Joseph Manor in 2017. (The Josephite Harvest)

Burden retired due to illness in 2013 to St. Joseph Manor in Baltimore, where he remained until the facility was sold in 2018. He then moved to a retirement home in his native Saginaw. Burden celebrated his 30th ordination anniversary in 2021, and was a resident of St. Francis Nursing Home at the time of his death.

The passing of Burden is just the latest loss for the 129-year-old Josephite society, which specifically serves African Americans. He is the sixth member of the community to have died in the past year, representing just under a tenth of its finally professed members.

The Josephites ordained three seminarians to the transitional diaconate earlier this month in DC, as well as one to the priesthood. An African-American seminarian also became a finally professed religious brother.

Flowers or a memorial gift can be sent to the family of Father Burden via the Evans & Browne Funeral Home website.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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