In Memoriam: Robert A. Burns

In Memoriam: Robert A. Burns

By University Communications
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Robert A. Burns, associate professor emeritus of religious studies
Robert A. Burns, associate professor emeritus of religious studies

The campus community is remembering Robert A. Burns, associate professor emeritus of religious studies in the College of Humanities, who died June 6 at 87 years old. Burns founded the religious studies program shortly after his arrival at the University in 1971 and served as chair of the program until 2011. He retired in 2016, after 45 years as a faculty member.

During his time at the University, Burns taught more than 20,000 students in his popular courses on comparative religions, Christian literature and Catholic thought, and published five books. He was a recipient of several teaching awards, including the Margaret M. Briehl and Dennis T. Ray Five Star Faculty Award, which recognizes excellence in teaching and mentoring and is the only award for faculty members that is determined by undergraduate students. He is also the namesake of the Robert A. Burns Endowment, which supports the recruitment and hiring of instructors as well as the Robert A. Burns Lecture Series.

Burns was born in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1934. Upon his college graduation, Burns saw three possible paths: attend law school, sign a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox or become a priest, according to a tribute on the Carillo's Tucson Mortuary website. Burns chose the priesthood, saying it was what he was meant to do.

Burns entered the novitiate for the Dominican Order in 1957. He made his first profession of vows in 1958 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1961. Ten years later, he earned his doctorate and accepted a position at the University.

Friar Bob, as he was affectionately known by many, was an active member of the St. Thomas More Catholic Newman Center, which is located on campus.

Burns is survived by his brother, Richard, and many nieces and nephews and their families. Services were held earlier this month at the Newman Center.

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