FR. WILLIAM JOHN BURKE, O.P.
Born: Sep 15, 1928
Professed: Aug 16, 1954
Ordained: Jun 16, 1960
Died: Feb 10; 2020
Father William John Burke, O.P., died peacefully at the age of 91 in the morning of Monday, February 10, 2020, at Mohun Health Care Center in Columbus, OH, where he had been a resident since 2017. His survivors are his Dominican brothers and friends.
William Francis Xavier Burke was born on September 15, 1928, in Washington, DC, the son and only child of William Francis Burke, a physician, and Grace Allison Logan. He was baptized at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Washington, DC. He attended public school in Great Neck, Long Island, NY and High School at Cathedral Latin, Belleville, IL and Breckenridge, San Antonio, TX.
In 1946, Father Burke enrolled in Catholic University of America, where he majored in Drama and minored in English and Philosophy. Father Gilbert Hartke, O.P., the founder of the CUA Department of Speech and Drama, encouraged his Dominican vocation.He received his BA in 1949 and went to work for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) as an associate director in network television. As the Korean War began, Father Burke enlisted in the US Army Reserve, and served as a radio broadcast specialist in psychological warfare and television director for the Public Information Officer of the US European Command in Germany.
Father Burke entered the Dominican novitiate at St. Stephen’s Priory in Dover, MA in 1953 and made his profession on August 16, 1954, taking John as his religious name. He completed his preparation at the Dominican House of Studies and was ordained to the priesthood at St. Dominic’s Church in Washington, DC on June 16, 1960. From 1961 to 1964, he taught philosophy at St. Stephen’s Priory in Dover, MA, having received his STL from the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception in 1961.
Father Burke returned to the Dominican House of Studies in 1964, where he remained until he retired to the Center for Assisted Living at St. Dominic’s Priory in Washington in 2006. While teaching at the House of Studies, he resumed his work at Catholic University, receiving the Master of Arts in Drama and the Doctorate in Sacred Theology in 1969. He devoted himself to teaching preaching to Dominican students, as well as to students from all the other schools of the Washington Theological Coalition.
Having begun his teaching just as the liturgical changes following Vatican II were being implemented, Father Burke was passionately committed to forming Catholic preachers in the art of preaching from sacred scripture and helping Catholic laypeople to engage in Bible study. In 1972, he organized the first National Congress on the Word of God, and introduced it at a press conference (according to a reporter who was present) by speaking “movingly of the need for preachers who can convince through the persuasiveness of their own personal faith, (for) only such men…can make the message of salvation live in our bones, at the core of our being, ‘where the sin is.’”
In the same year, Father Burke founded the Word of God Institute, whose manifold activities throughout the country, including conferences and workshops, publications, films and recordings, promoted a vision of local churches as centers for evangelization. Father Burke traveled far and wide in pursuit of his apostolate, even to an Inuit mission in the Arctic. The Institute’s central office at the House of Studies was a beehive of activity, often engaging student brothers in its projects. Members of the Drama Department of CUA were engaged in the work of the Institute, and Father Burke arranged for them to give speech training to his students.
In 2004, Father Burke compiled a history of Dominican Preaching in the Province of St. Joseph to celebrate the Province’s 200th anniversary. It presents sermons of 16 friars collected from the provincial archives, extending from 1832 to 1960, and including a picture and short introduction to each preacher.
Father Burke gradually withdrew from active ministry and in 2006 retired to St. Dominic’s Priory in Washington. There, he enjoyed the opportunity to read, pray with the community and enjoy their company. He especially enjoyed the youthful presence of the deacons when they moved into St. Dominic’s, and when he needed nursing care, he was glad to accept an assignment to Mohun Health Care Center. From there, in 2018, he wrote a short reflection, “An Old Man Prays,” in which he says that contemplative prayer, “waiting for God to talk to us…is a perfect ministry for the old.” May his soul rest in peace.
Father Burke’s body will be received in the chapel at the Mohun Health Care Center in Columbus, OH, on Friday, February 14, 2020, and the Office for the Dead will be celebrated there at 4:30 p.m. Very Rev. Stephen Alcott, Prior of St. Patrick Priory, will celebrate the Mass of Christian Burial at 11 a.m. on Saturday, February 15, in Mohun Chapel, and Rev. William Garrott, O.P., will be the preacher. Fr. Burke will be buried in St. Joseph Cemetery, Somerset, OH.
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