Locals remember the late ‘Father Tom’

The Rev. Msgr. G. Thomas Burns, who for 22 years was a parochial vicar at St. Cecilia Church in Kearny — and who only served at two parishes in his entire priestly ministry, died in Sarasota, Fla., on June 23, after a very brief illness following a cerebral hemorrhage.

Msgr. Burns graduated from Seton Hall Preparatory School, Seton Hall University and the Immaculate Conception Seminary (then in Darlington). He was ordained a priest at Sacred Heart Cathedral on May 25, 1957.

During his entire priesthood ministry, he was assigned to only one other church after Saints — he was pastor of St. Raphael’s Church, Livingston, from 1979 until his retirement in 2002.

Msgr. Burns was the grand-nephew of the Founder of the Knights of Columbus, Michael McGivney. His maternal grandmother was Rose McGivney (Finn), Michael’s sister. Michael also had two brothers, priests Patrick McGivney and John McGivney.

A generation closer, Msgr. Burns had three uncles who were priests, the late Msgr. Leo M. Finn, Francis J. Finn and Vincent E. Finn, his mother’s brothers.

Msgr. Burns contended that his uncles were his role models and greatly influenced him in his decision to become a priest.

Lovingly known as “Father Tom,” he celebrated his 60th anniversary of ordination at a beautiful Mass and celebration given by the parishioners of St. Raphael’s, just a few weeks ago — on May 20, where countless people gathered to celebrate his life and ministry.

Among those who attended the celebration was Kearny Third Ward Councilwoman Carol Jean Doyle, a long-time family friend. After the celebration, Doyle posted photos of her dear friend — and took time to note how well he looked after 60 years a priest.

His death truly stung.

“I am truly devastated about losing a family friend,” Doyle said. “(He was) a mentor who was my converting priest, and he was Norman’s good friend since 1957. We went on vacation with T and his sister over so many years. He shared all the good, amazing and sad times in our lives. He traveled to Scranton with us to celebrate Meghan’s 21st birthday. I could go on discussing over 50 years of love and friendship.

Like her mother, Meghan Doyle Zimmerman also echoed similar sentiments about Father Tom.

There are very few people who walk the earth and make everyone they come in contact with feel loved and feel special,” Doyle Zimmerman said.  “Father Burns had the ability to do just that everyone he met became important to him and you could see that when he talked to them or about them.

Where some of us were lucky to have been his family, you realized that you were going to have to share him with a lot of people as he had an inability to close his heart to anyone and that is what I will miss the most about him. He was a genuine example of unconditional love that in a world that often emphasizes and shows us the worst in humans, he was an example of just how extraordinary a human being could be. 

My family will be eternally grateful for being privileged enough to have had the opportunity to love and know this exceptional priest.”

An avid golfer, he played until his last days with only his “gimme” putts possibly increasing, but not his score. He loved the game, but his love of people in all walks of life, from CEOs to the workers at McDonalds, told the most about his character. His real gift was the gift of love and family, friends and parishioners alike can all testify to that love.

Father Tom’s funeral was last week at St. Raphael’s Church, Livingston. Interment was in Gate of Heaven Cemetery. 

To leave condolences, visit www.LeonardisMemorialHome.com. 

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to be made to St. Raphael’s Church, 346 E. Mount Pleasant Ave., Livingston, or to the ARC of Ocean County, 815 Cedar Bridge Ave., Lakewood, N.J., in honor of his beloved niece Kathleen Muoio.

Kevin Canessa | Journalist & Webmaster

Kevin Canessa Jr. is a journalist and webmaster at The Observer. He is responsible for the editorial content on the newspaper's website, the production of the e-Edition, covering the Nutley Police Department and more behind the scenes. From 2006 to 2008, he served as the editor of The Observer, where he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video for the very first time. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Fla., for four years until February 2016 and in 2016, moved back to Kearny to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.