West Belfast man (100) to receive medal for services to Catholic Church

Suzanne McGonagle
15 June, 2016 01:00

A WEST Belfast man who turned 100 this week is to be honoured with the prestigious Benemerenti medal for his services to the Catholic Church.

Billy Burns, from Ballymurphy, is to receive the rare accolade, awarded by the Pope, for his life-long devotion to the Church.

The centenarian has served in the parish of Corpus Christi for 65 years and has also just been recognised for his dedicated work to St Vincent de Paul.

In 1951, he responded to a request by a priest to take up the Sunday Mass collection and has been performing this service ever since.

During the building of new churches in the parish, including Corpus Christi and the Church of The Annunciation, the father-of-11 also prepared school halls where Mass was held during the renovations.

Mr Burns, originally from the Half Bap area of north Belfast - now known as the Cathedral Quarter - was also in the Fire Service during the Second World War and worked as a tiler in London.

Within the coming weeks, he will receive the Benemerenti medal all the way from Rome for his dedication to the Catholic Church.

It was originally established as an award to soldiers in the Papal Army, but later extended to clergy and the laity for services to the church.

Just recently Mr Burns' dedication to the church and St Vincent de Paul was celebrated during a special service at Corpus Christi, which saw him presented with an award from Bishop Patrick Walsh.

In a written tribute from the church, it acknowledged the "longevity of service" he had given to the parish of Corpus Christi since 1951, which was described as "without comparison".

"He has been a steadfast and eminently reliable in his service to the church," it said.

"This service has always been freely without the expectation of any recognition or recompense."

His work for St Vincent de Paul was described by the charity as being "characterised by energy, commitment, sensitivity and empathy".

His grand-daughter Dearbhail Anderson last night also described the family's pride.

"He's just turned 100, but still lives alone, reads the Irish News every morning and does his daily exercise," she said.

"He sings, plays piano, accordion and harmonica which he stood up and played during the service.

"He has given an enormous amount of his time to his family, the church and St Vincent de Paul, he's an amazing person."

15 June, 2016 01:00 News