HAVERHILL — The Rev. Richard Burton is coming home — almost.
Beginning this spring, the Haverhill native will lead the flock at St. Lucy Parish in Methuen after leading two Catholic parishes in Salem and Peabody.
Burton, 50, said he will replace St. Lucy's pastor, the Rev. Thomas Keyes, who is going to do missionary work in South America with the Missionary Society of St. James.
"I love the Merrimack Valley and it's great to come back," Burton said. "I had in a request for the last year or so that if something opened up in the Haverhill area that I'd move closer to home, and closer to my parents Lewis and Hortense Burton, who are in their older years."
Lewis Burton was mayor of Haverhill from 1976 to 1977, the year Richard Burton graduated from Haverhill High School.
Burton, who calls himself a "second-vocation priest," entered the priesthood later in life and after a career in the Navy and four years spent teaching physics at Malden High School.
He was ordained a priest in 2003 and spent the next two years as parochial vicar of Holy Rosary Church in Lawrence. Two years later he was named pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Salem, which had been targeted for closing.
He also serves as chaplain at Bishop Fenwick, where he teaches physics. Two years ago he was given a third ministry, which was to lead Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Peabody. He said that although a seven-day work week fits his workaholic nature, it can take a physical and mental toll.
Transferring to St. Lucy is a chance to spend more time with family and friends in the Haverhill area and for activities such as skiing as well as playing golf with his father.
His work in Peabody and Salem requires driving back and forth to preside over Mass at both parishes. He is assisted at St. Thomas by a Jesuit priest from Boston College and by a Brazilian priest at Our Lady of Fatima, which he said is a Portuguese National Parish.