Fr Eric Burton, Emeritus Parish Priest of Christ the King, North Rocks died this afternoon at Rosary Village, Yennora aged 92. Funeral details will be announced in due course.
Born on 24 October 1925 and ordained 24 July 1950, Fr Eric was a priest for over 68 years. He was awarded the Papal honour of the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta on 20 April 2011.
The following article appeared in Catholic Outlook, August 2010.
Fr Eric Burton
On 24 July 2010, Fr Eric Burton celebrated the 60th anniversary of his ordination to priesthood. He is quick to point out that the honour is not his alone, but is shared with Fr Les Campion, Fr David Scott, and Mons John Walsh.
These men were ordained on the same day in 1950, in the same ceremony at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. Fr Stan Campbell was ordained later in Armidale and Fr Eugene Kenny in Rome.
To celebrate this important commemoration of their commitment to priestly life, they were joined by family, friends and parishioners for a special Mass on Saturday 24 July 2010.
Bishop Kevin Manning, Emeritus Bishop of Parramatta, was the principal celebrant for the Mass, which was concelebrated by fellow jubilarians: Fr Campion and Fr Scott, Mons John Walsh, Fr Stan Campbell and Fr Eugene Kenny.
Born in Newtown in 1925 to Mary and John Burton, Fr Eric is the middle of three sons. He attended the parish school, St Paul’s Primary at Dulwich Hill, and went on to Lewisham Boys High School for his secondary schooling.
After a short stint as a telephone technician the young Eric entered St Columba’s seminary at Springwood in 1942. “I grew up in a general atmosphere of faith,” he said. “It was a strong faith parish and Lewisham Boys had a great tradition of young men entering the priesthood – I was priest no. 79. We were always in competition with Joeys.”
Fr Eric credits three priests from that time – Rev Dr Pat Toumey, Fr John Byrne and Fr Reg Reynolds – as having a significant influence on his decision to enter the seminary.
While there was no defining moment, he felt gradually drawn to the priesthood, believing it was a worthwhile choice. “I thought there was more to life than material things,” he said.
Fr Eric’s younger brother Kevin was also ordained a priest and spent much of his priestly ministry in the Communications Apostolate. “We were a great support to each other,” Fr Eric reflected on his brother’s important role in his life. Fr Kevin Burton died in 2009.
Fr Eric’s first posting was for six years to Rockdale as Assistant Priest where he said his ministry involved a lot of parish visitation. “You could find people at home in those days,” he reflected. He was also involved in organising the youth group.
Thereafter, he had a number of postings at Earlwood, Dee Why, Woolloomooloo and Balgowlah before coming to North Rocks in 1970 as the first parish priest of Christ the King Parish. “There was lot of enthusiasm as there always is in young parishes,” he said.
Building materials were not easy to come by, so an old convent was transported by rail from Nymagee to Parramatta and re-erected. It comprised a small chapel, offices and a couple of bedrooms. The present church was built at North Rocks.
For Fr Eric, the highlight of his priestly ministry has been celebrating the Mass and the sacraments with the people of God and endeavouring to meet the needs of the people in his parish. “An important part of priesthood is being a part of people’s lives, especially in caring for the sick and in the area of education,” he said.
He said one of the big challenges of today’s Church was inspiring the laity to become involved in the life of the parish. “They are an essential part in assisting the priest in his parish ministry, especially in the new evangelisation.”
In his downtime, Fr Eric likes to get out and do battle over 18 rounds with a regular group of friends who join him at St Michael’s golf course each week.
For relaxation, he loves to read, including the works of PG Wodehouse, and revisit his Irish heritage by listening to the lilting ballads of the land of his grandparents.
Of the five men ordained on that July day 60 years ago, Fr Eric is the only one still resident as parish priest and yet this gentle, quiet achiever shows no sign of slowing down, still enjoying serving in the parish he established 40 years ago.
Fr Eric feels that his milestone of 60 years as a priest should not be celebrated as an achievement for his own sake, but as a celebration of priesthood itself.
At the Chrism Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral on Wednesday 20 April 2011, Bishop Anthony Fisher OP announced three long-serving Diocesan priests – Fathers Eric Burton, David Scott and Les Campion – as recipients of the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice.
Source: Catholic Outlook, August 2010, with staff writers.
In your charity please pray for the Repose of the Soul of Fr Eric and rember his family in your prayers.