Father William P. Burks spent the last school day before Christmas break 2012 with the eighth-graders at John Paul II Academy.
He shared with them his favorite version of A Christmas Carol — “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol” — and a razzleberry pie which he baked for them the night before.
School Principal Lynn Wilt said that visit is one example of the many ways Father Burks engages the school’s students. She
described him during a recent phone interview as a constant presence and a “tremendous support” at the regional school.
That’s why she — with the support of the school’s two other pastors — decided to nominate Father Burks for the National Catholic Educational Association’s (NCEA) Distinguished Pastor Award. The association announced on Dec. 18 that Father Burks had won the award for the southern region of the United States. He will receive the award during a ceremony in Houston in April.
In the meantime, Father Burks will be honored locally during the Archdiocese of Louisville’s annual Catholic Schools Week Mass set for 10 a.m. on Jan. 29 at Holy Family School, 3934 Poplar Level Road. He and several others will be recognized for their support of Catholic education, including Cathy Guizio, principal of St. Martha School. She has been named the NCEA’s Distinguished Elementary Principal for the southern region and also will be honored in Houston.
The Archdiocese of Louisville also will recognize Fred Whittaker, a teacher at St. Francis of Assisi School, as this year’s recipient of the Father Joseph McGee Award as the archdiocese’s Outstanding Catholic Educator. Awards also will be presented to the archdiocese’s Distinguished Elementary
Principal, Pam Huelsman of St. Gabriel School; Outstanding Religious Educator, Alicia Sallee of St. Stephen Martyr School and Outstanding School Volunteer, Gene Burns of St. Bernard School.
The Catholic Education Foundation also will present awards to the winners of the Catholic Schools Week essay and poster contests.
Father Burks, pastor of St. Pius X Church which shares a campus with John Paul II Academy, said he heard that he had been selected for the award right after he left the screening of “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.”
“By that afternoon it was really wonderful,” said Father Burks, an energetic man who seems always ready with a kind and encouraging smile. “Ms. Wilt announced it over the loud speaker. I could hear the kids clapping and yelling about how great it was. That was a very nice day.”
Faher Burks said he makes a point to visit the school at least daily. He also speaks to the student body during morning broadasts and at other times.
“I’m very fortunate because I’m very close to the school. I try to spend some time with them at lunch. And I try to pop by at the end of the day for 10 or 15 minutes as they’re leaving,” he said.
He’s also known around the school community for directing a Passion Play each year, said Wilt.
The students “can’t wait to get to eighth grade to do the Passion Play directed by father,” said Wilt, during a phone interview last week. “His presence, the whole essence of what he does, he lives his faith. The children see this. He challenges us to do our best when he talks with us in the hallway and he’s present to everything and everyone.
“All of our pastors have been very involved and caring,” she added. “He goes above and beyond.”
Father Burks said he’s impressed by the excellence of the faculty, staff and students at John Paul II Academy, where he has served since 2007. And the students, he noted, are interested in God’s presence in their lives.
“All of them truly, they seem to have such a sense of faith and understanding of the presence of God and Christ in their life,” he said. “It’s something we want to nurture and want them to always be aware of because life can be difficult and challenging and disappointing. What we are giving them is joy and the ability to share that joy and keep that joy when life becomes very difficult later on.”