Work at the Pace of Prayer: Dan Burke Follows God’s Will From EWTN to Avila

Outgoing president of EWTN News discusses faith and working for Christ.

Dan Burke is leaving the Register and EWTN ‘to personally serve those who desire to encounter Christ’ through full-time efforts with the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation. His wife, Stephanie, assists him with the work of the Avila Institute.
Dan Burke is leaving the Register and EWTN ‘to personally serve those who desire to encounter Christ’ through full-time efforts with the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation. His wife, Stephanie, assists him with the work of the Avila Institute. (photo: EWTN photo)

When Daniel Burke announced his resignation on Jan. 7 as chief operating officer and president of EWTN News, it was not without sadness.

“I will miss working with the extraordinary people who absolutely love the Church and give their all for very little pay for doing this important work of telling the truth through the lens of the magisterium,” he said in an interview with the Register.

Citing chronic lung problems as limiting his energy, Burke said he has discerned God’s call to give himself full time to the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, which he founded in 2013 to help people learn and experience their faith on a deeper level. He collaborated with Anthony Lilles, Ph.D., academic dean of St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, California, to create a two-year graduate program in spiritual theology for priests, religious and laity. The graduate program, along with a program designed for personal enrichment, is now in more than 70 countries. Burke also partners with 14 dioceses in the U.S. and Canada to prepare men for seminary life and the priesthood. Burke and Lilles have also co-written two books on spirituality.

“Dan has helped provide spiritual formation even in places where the Church is persecuted,” Lilles said. “During this current period of controversy and confusion in both the Church and the world, he has been a voice of confidence and clarity for many.”

“I want to personally serve those who desire to encounter Christ and to help them do that in the context of the rich, redeeming reality of the authentic magisterium and Tradition of the Church,” Burke explained. The decision, he said, was a matter of discerning where God wants him to spend the rest of his life for the greatest impact to help heal the Church and spread the message of Jesus Christ.

Burke first came to work at the Register in 2008.

“I wanted to give my entire life to advancing the teaching of the Catholic faith,” he explained. At the time, he was a fairly new Catholic, having entered the Church in 2005 while heading up strategy development at the Protestant organization Focus on the Family. The ownership of the Register at that time, the Legion of Christ, brought him in as an adviser to the board before he accepted the position as executive director of Circle Media, which included the Register, Faith & Family magazine and Circle Press book publishing. But before long, Burke was asking himself, “What have I gotten myself into?” — Circle Media was failing financially.

The Register began publication on Nov. 8, 1927, in the then-Diocese of Denver, by Msgr. Matthew Smith and grew to a national circulation of more than 700,000. In 1970, California businessman Patrick Frawley and his wife, Gerardine, bought the newspaper; and 25 years later, the Legion of Christ, a religious order of priests and seminarians, took it over.

By 2008, however, an economic downturn and rising publishing costs put it on shaky ground. Adding to that burden were the revelations that the Legion’s founder was living a double life, which caused donations to dry up.

In response to the financial challenges, Burke shut down Circle Press and sold Faith & Family to Bayard, the publisher of Catholic Digest, and then focused on saving the Register.

“I saw the Register as an institution that served the Church with dignity and distinction and a commitment to faithful journalism,” he said. With a team mentality, everyone worked to cut expenses. The internal debt was paid off by November 2010, but there was still a large gap between income and expenses.

Feeling there was no human way out, the staff turned to prayer and adoration.

“All we could do was to be faithful, moment by moment, and trust that God would provide answers when they were needed,” Burke said. Then came an interested buyer.

On Dec. 8, 2010 — the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception — Burke discussed possible terms for acquisition with Michael Warsaw, EWTN’s president and CEO. The next morning, Burke negotiated an agreement with the Legion leadership. Burke was also working with a donor who had agreed to cover the Register’s payroll for the entire month of January, which was necessary to keep the doors open.

The Register was already scheduled to fold on Dec. 31. When, instead, Burke announced that EWTN was taking over, the office exploded with elation and tears of joy.

“We went from learning we were going to close our doors to being acquired by one of the most stable and influential Catholic organizations in the world,” recalled Tom Wehner, managing editor of the Register. “It was incredible; it was a deliverance!” EWTN officially took over on Feb. 1, 2011. Under Burke’s leadership, the Register’s circulation grew to nearly double — a 95% increase. Even more significant, from January 2011 to January 2020, web traffic increased by 280%.

“He is committed to prayer, first and foremost,” Wehner said. “I see that as his No. 1 strength. He combines that with his business acumen, and the commitment to bringing the truth of the Gospel to those willing to hear it. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for him in this next stage.”

Seven years after the acquisition, on Aug. 17, 2018, Burke was named president and chief operating officer of EWTN News to direct all of EWTN’s global news operations.

In a statement, Warsaw, now chairman and chief executive officer of EWTN, had expressed confidence in Burke’s abilities. “Dan Burke is a perfect choice to lead these operations,” he said. “He is uniquely suited to help facilitate cooperation and editorial collaboration across our multiple outlets.”

According to Brian Horvath, director of marketing for EWTN who began at the Register in 2010, through it all, Burke never sweated the small stuff.

“He always has a steady hand at the helm of the ship,” Horvath said. “His strong Catholic faith consistently leads the way in all his decision-making. I will miss Dan’s leadership and sound advice, as well as all the spiritual discussions.”

Jeanette DeMelo, the Register’s editor in chief, worked under Burke for the last eight years.

“Dan has a tremendous capacity to prioritize and focus on what is most important,” she said. In addition to a clear vision and ability to inspire teamwork, DeMelo pointed to Burke’s spiritual focus on eternity for himself and others. “For Dan, a perfect work environment includes a white board for sorting his ideas and a chapel for emptying himself and seeking God’s will,” she said.

A favorite memory of hers is from 2013, during the annual Register editorial staff meeting/retreat in Birmingham the week of Ash Wednesday. Pope Benedict had announced he was retiring, thereby throwing off the whole week, as everyone set to work on a special print edition on the Pope’s news.

That Friday, DeMelo wanted to put more time into work and skip the afternoon retreat session.

“That was the only time Dan ever reprimanded me, saying something to the effect of, ‘Time set aside for the spiritual life must be sacred; leave work behind, and give this time entirely to God.’”

It was a lesson that she said Burke always followed himself, including making daily Mass a part of his schedule.

“It’s fitting that Dan will now spend the best of himself daily teaching this lesson to as many people as possible through the Avila Institute,” DeMelo said.  

While Burke focuses on the Avila Institute, his wife, Stephanie, will be at his side. “We both have always valued his time at EWTN and believe deeply in its mission,” she said. “We came to the decision that it was time to leave through careful discernment, according to the rules of St. Ignatius, our spiritual directors and practical day-to-day matters such as human capacity and health.”

At one point, when her husband was hospitalized, Stephanie left her position as an educational administrator of more than 25 years to join him as director of the Avila Institute. For the past year, she also began co-hosting the Divine Intimacy Radio podcasts with him.

“We share deeply the passion of this important work, and it is already bearing fruit that we can tangibly see,” she said.

“It’s our delight and mission to help others find their way to freedom in Christ. What better mission could we possible have? May God help us and direct us always for his glory.”

Register correspondent Patti Armstrong writes from North Dakota.

Read a related note from out publisher here.