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UD Quarterly September 30, 2020
For the Summer 2008 University of Dayton Quarterly, we interviewed Father Norbert Burns, S.M. '45, for a feature titled Learn. Lead. Serve. The special issue focused on 100 favorite things about UD; Father Burns is one of our favorites. We reprint this story to remember his life, love and influence. Father Burns died Aug. 28, 2020.

The story of learning at UD is in reality more than 100,000 stories; more than a quarter of those stories are also part of the story of one 1945 UD graduate, Father Norbert Burns, S.M.

Father Norbert Burns, smiling, sitting on a bench with trees in the backgroundAs his students left his class on April 24, 2007, he said, “I hugged and kissed each who would let me.” That was not done out of sadness that this was his last day of teaching after six decades in the classroom. The reason was the same as that for greeting each at the classroom door as they had arrived for the first day of class — his philosophy, the Marianist philosophy, of learning. For Burns, his class was “a community, not just individual learning.”

In the days of Latin, Catholics would at Mass hear, “Dominus vobiscum” (The Lord be with you). Burns offers the phrase, “Communitas vobiscum.” He believes what distinguishes learning at a Marianist university is community, so forming community is at the basis of teaching and learning at UD.

After six decades of experience, he offered six keys to forming the community.

The first, sacramentality, explains his liking for “communitas vobiscum,” for the Lord is in the community; through each other we see the Lord. For Burns, this means “I see people as God’s gift to me.” The second is passion. “Do everything,” he said, “with commitment.” The third is dynamism. “You’ve got to feed it.”

The fourth key involves a knowledge of self and of others. “If you are going to give yourself to community,” Burns said, “you have to know who you are, your needs and wants; and you have to know the needs and wants of others.” Fifth, he said, “as much as possible, let people be where they are. Let them alone, be as open as possible, trust them.”

The sixth key involves a “can’t” — when it comes to “I can’t form community with the way you are talking or acting.” For community to be formed in that situation, individuals must figure out how to grow through a difficult situation.

Burns has himself gone through a substantial change in situation this past year. He retired from the classroom and moved into a new house with new people. And he has slowed down some. Now 83, he doesn’t take any appointments before 11 a.m.


Read more from the from the Summer 2008 University of Dayton Quarterly issue "100 Things We Love About UD."

Obituary: Father Norbert Burns