Frederic Bradford Burnham, Ph.D.

Dr. Fredrick Burnham died January 23, 2019. He will be missed. 

Dr. Burnham retired in 2004 as Director of Trinity Institute, a program for the continuing theological education of clergy and laity sponsored by the Parish of Trinity Church, New York City. He was educated at Harvard College (BA), the Episcopal Divinity School, (MDiv), Cambridge University in England (Diploma in the History and Philosophy of Science), and The Johns Hopkins University, where he received a PhD in the History of Science. He also holds an honorary degree from Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He writes and lectures on the intersection of religion, science, and culture.

Dr. Burnham began his career as a Professor of the History of Science at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, where he also served as a Dean of Graduate Studies. In 1978 he became the President of The Association of Episcopal Colleges until he moved to Trinity Church Wall Street in 1984 to become Director of Trinity Institute.During his 20-year tenure at Trinity Institute, Dr. Burnham broadened the Institute’s conference audience by inaugurating The Episcopal Cathedral Teleconferencing Network (ECTN), an interactive satellite-broadcasting medium that reached over 600 satellite-downlink communities in all 50 states.

The climax of Dr. Burnham’s career began on 9/11/01. His office was less than a block south of ground zero. During the terrorist attack he narrowly escaped death. The event changed Dr. Burnham’s life dramatically. He threw himself into the recovery effort, becoming a night supervisor at the relief ministry for emergency workers that emerged at St. Paul’s, a chapel of Trinity Church. During the prior twenty years, Dr. Burnham had been studying the revival of relational ontology in the exciting new sciences of chaos, complexity, emergence, and networks. In the early stages of the relief effort at ground zero, Dr. Burnham recognized that the spontaneous manner in which the emergency operations self-organized both in the pit and at St. Paul’s Chapel were perfect models of  “robust” networks, the term scientists use to describe complex relational systems. Dr. Burnham is now writing and speaking extensively on the application of the concepts of Network Theory and relational ontology to human organizations.

In retirement Dr. Burnham became a Senior Fellow of the Bennett J. Sims Institute for Servant Leadership in Hendersonville, NC, where he shared responsibility for several of the Institute’s program initiatives. He developed a “Relational Leadership Curriculum” for the transformation of human communities based upon a synthesis of the leadership theories of Marshall Ganz, Otto Scharmer, and Jesus. The curriculum is grounded in a relational ontology drawn from a variety of disciplines including contemporary theology, sociology, psychology, and science.

Dr. Burnham was married and had two grown sons. His wife, Regan, also recently retired from the Master’s School in Dobbs Ferry, New York, where she served as an Assistant Academic Dean and instructor in World Religions. She is also a licensed Hospital Chaplain. He and Regan lived in their “tree house” in the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina.


The Rev. Frederic Bradford Burnham, PhD, was born July 21, 1938 in Cambridge, MA and died peacefully at the John F. Keever Jr. Solace Center, Asheville, NC on January 23, 2019. He was the son of the late Rev. Bradford Hinckley Burnham and the late Anna Scovill Gorrell Burnham. He was predeceased by his son, William Boswell Burnham, and sister, Anna Demia Burnham. Dr. Burnham graduated from Phillips Andover Academy in 1956. He earned an AB degree from Harvard (Literature & Physics), a BD from The Episcopal Theological School, a Diploma from Cambridge University, England and a PhD in the History of Science from The Johns Hopkins University. Additionally he was awarded a D.D. degree from Hobart College. Throughout his career he was a scholar, teacher, author and church leader in the study of science and religion and the examination of American cultural values. He served ten years at Wayne State University as a faculty member in the History Department and became the youngest Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies in the country. In 1978, he became the President of the Association of Episcopal Colleges. In 1984, he became the third Director of the Trinity Institute, a program of Trinity Church Wall Street. There, he created conferences exploring parts of the Post-Modern puzzle, interweaving cutting edge discoveries in theology, the arts, and the new sciences. While at Trinity, he developed a set of dialogues with leaders of Wall Street, preached regularly, and served as faculty to the Clergy Leadership Project, a national program for Episcopal Clergy. Without fanfare he sought to renew and reinvigorate clergy and laity all over the country. The churches he served during his ministry were in Baltimore, Detroit, Elmsford, NY, and an Episcopal summer community church, All Angels, in Twilight Park, NY. The pinnacle of his career was his time at St. Paul’s Chapel, which is part of Trinity Church. It was there, at Ground Zero, following 9/11 that he discovered a new calling: ministry to the relief workers. The joy of caring for the firemen, police, and construction workers far outweighed the trauma of the attack. He served food and good counsel for nine months. Retiring in 2004 to western North Carolina, Dr. Burnham was a Senior Fellow of the Bennett J. Sims Institute for Servant Leadership, and a Senior Fellow at the Cathedral College of the Washington National Cathedral. Fred is survived by his wife, Regan, his son, Bradford (Lynn), and stepson, Kevin Quat. Mourning their beloved uncle are his nieces: Carol Everest (Jeff), Lee Jones (Richard), Jean Watson (Chris McLaughlin), Elizabeth Freeman (Noel), Christine Gove (Dick) and his nephew, Robert Larsen (Patricia). He is also survived by his sister, Elizabeth Watson (Doug), and two dearly beloved grandsons: John Frederic Burnham and Zackery Michael Quat. Many grandnieces and grandnephews round out the family. A Celebration of Life service will be held at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 2, 2019 at The Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit, Mars Hill, NC. Memorial donations may be directed to The Asheville Poverty Initiative where Fred recently volunteered as Chair of the Board, or to The John F. Keever Jr. Solace Center. The family wishes to acknowledge the superb care Dr. Burnham received at the Solace Center. We are forever grateful. Condolences may be made to the family at

Published in The Times-News from Jan. 26 to Jan. 27, 2019