Brothers follow the rosary to the priesthood
by Kara Hansen
OLATHE — “The rosary becomes a habit you can’t live without — like eating,” believes Father Bob Burger. “It feeds the spiritual life.”
For the 60-year veteran of the priesthood and his brothers — Father Ray and
Father Frank, all priests of the archdiocese — the rosary was a habit that started in the early days of their youth.
“We had a big tradition of praying the rosary as a family going as far back as I can remember,” said Father Frank, pastor of Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe. “I’m not even aware of when we started — it’s just something we always did.”
Each night after dinner, the Burger family would gather in the living room to pray a rosary together. Once the siblings had mastered the individual prayers, they would get to take their turn in leading a decade of the rosary.
Praying a nightly family rosary was undoubtedly quite an undertaking in a family with 14 children, but it proved very fruitful in terms of religious vocations. Four of the girls became nuns, joining the Sisters of St. Joseph in Wichita, and three of the boys became priests for the archdiocese.
“I think it had a major impact on my decision to become a priest,” said Father Frank. “There was a great deal of importance placed on faith in our family, and my parents taught us you don’t do anything if you don’t take care of your relationship with God first.”
A daily family rosary was not yet built into the family’s routine when Father Bob, the second oldest, was living at home. But he recalls his father’s enthusiasm for the devotion, just the same.
“My dad was particularly dedicated to the rosary,” said Father Bob. “During the months of October and May, we would help lead rosaries at our parish in the absence of our priest.”
Later, while in the seminary, Father Bob started praying the rosary daily on his own, and still does it today as sacramental minister at Villa St. Francis in Olathe.
In fact, all of the brothers have continued to make the rosary a part of their regular prayer life.
But they all admit that there was plenty of time in their youths when the spiritual benefits of the devotion might have escaped them.
“You know, we were normal kids,” explained Father Ray, who is officially retired but still serves as chaplain for St. James Academy in Lenexa and Santa Marta in Olathe. “There were times something would strike us as funny or we would act up and need to be corrected once in awhile.”
In addition to its spiritual benefits, the family rosary provided an opportunity for the Burgers to come together as a family, just as activities outside the home were beginning to make more demands on the older ones’ time.
“The rosary was really a pulling-together event for our family each day, and a chance to share religious practice with one another,” said Father Ray.
Yet the rosary was just one aspect of the family’s faith life growing up. The Burgers attended Mass daily, all the kids attended Catholic schools, and the family was deeply involved in the life of their parish — first at St. John the Divine in Kansas City, Kan., and then at St. Joseph in Shawnee.
“We really grew up in our parish community,” said Father Ray. “Our priests were family friends and came over for dinner regularly, and we did work for them around the parish. If something special was going on at church, we were actively involved in it.”
“It wasn’t just praying the rosary, but growing up in a family where faith was the core of our life — it was just absorbed in our family,” agreed Father Frank.
All three brothers credit their parents with providing them outstanding role models in the faith.
“My dad brought us to church every morning,” recalled Father Frank. “He was a doctor with a very busy schedule and people would of- ten ask him how he found the time to pray every day.
“He just told people it was the most important part of his day. When people would ask him how long it took to get from home to the hospital, he would say ‘about one rosary.’”
But Father Ray, who is ninth in the sibling order, also recalls the example his oldest brother and sister set for the younger ones.
His faith and his vocation, he said, is partially due to the example of his oldest sister Mary Louise, who became Sister Ann Catherine, and Father Bob — who both modeled what it was like to live their Catholic faith.
“I like to say that Mom and Dad had 14 kids but only raised two. The first two were examples for the rest of us,” said Father Ray.