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Friends show appreciation for Father Burke who dies at 82

Posted By November 11, 2011 | 10:21 am | Local

By Tanya Connor
And William T. Clew

WEST BOYLSTON – Father John F. Burke, who died Nov. 3, was appreciated by clergy, religious and laity, evidenced by their responses at his wake service and funeral which filled Our Lady of Good Counsel Church this week. Father Burke, 82, was called pastor emeritus of the parish where he served for 26 years until retirement in 2004.
The wake service homily of Bishop Rueger, a friend once stationed with him, drew laughter and applause. At the funeral Tuesday, Father Kenneth R. Cardinale, a former parishioner who succeeded Father Burke as pastor, again got listeners laughing with an imitation his laugh.
Father Cardinale, now pastor of St. Mary Parish in North Grafton and administrator of St. Philip Parish in Grafton, first heard Father Burke’s laugh when he arrived at the parish in 1990. Father Burke helped him discern his vocation, he said; “He invited me along with Jesus and him on that journey.”
Once on vacation, Father Cardinale commented about not having known that Father Burke liked plants.
Responded the gardener, “Do you think … you exhausted the mystery that is Burke?”
They debated whether heaven is for rest, or, as Father Burke said, the work of exploring the mystery of God. Father Cardinale said his senior was saying, “God is a never-ending mystery.” Kind of like the mystery that is Burke.
He read from the homily Father Burke preached at his first Mass, which warned of stresses of priesthood, but also recounted blessings.
Concluding his mentor’s funeral homily, Father Cardinale got the congregation to join him in blessing Father Burke with the blessing he used regularly: “May the Lord support you all the day long …”
Bishop Rueger told how Father Burke supported those in need: a suffering bishop or priest, priests and religious who left their vocation or weren’t recognized for God’s work in them, Clark University students (where he was Newman chaplain from 1960-68) shocked by President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and a person at the door, for whom he left his ice cream to melt onto the floor.
“He was very faithful to his friends,” said Sister Maryanne Guertin, a Sister of St. Joseph now working for Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Norwich. When the diocesan ecumenical ministry was reconfigured and she was let go, he voiced his objection strongly in The Catholic Free Press.
“He took a real risk,” she said. “He spoke out kindly, but honestly, and he never became a monsignor.”
“He was a statesman who loved his church, his country and God’s people, rich and poor, young and old, black and white,” said Sister Paula Robillard, a Sister of St. Joseph who was director of religious education at Our Lady of Good Counsel for 10 years and is now director of faith formation for the Diocese of Springfield. She pointed out Our Lady of Good Counsel’s shrine to American saints which Father Burke had erected.
She recalled promising to wear her former habit if the parish would hold its ’50s dance fundraiser once more.
“John was so excited,” she said. “His line was, he always wanted to work with a ‘real nun’ one more time in his life.”
“I remember him as being such a delight to work for,” said Terri King, his secretary for a few years, now called administrative assistant at Our Lady of Good Counsel. “He just was kind and compassionate. I felt a respect from him of my position.”
“He was very attentive to children,” said Erzsi Bloemer, of Our Lady of Good Counsel. She recalled him giving religious education students a tour of St. Paul Cathedral and making it easier for families to attend Mass together by installing speakers in the foyer and asking that aisle seats be left for them in case a child needed to be taken out.
She shared a letter Father Burke wrote her daughter, Kati Bloemer, when she was about 6. In it she wondered if God was Irish because he made so many green things.
“Each kind of people reflects something of God,” he wrote, giving examples and suggesting maybe God created the Irish to add fun to the world, like the green in a bouquet brings out the flowers’ beauty. He signed the letter, “Your friend and pastor, Father John.”
In addition to being a pastor, Father Burke was chairman of the diocesan Ecumenical Commission,  chairman of the Massachusetts Commission on Christian Unity, and recipient of the diocesan John XXIII Ecumenical Medal. He served in the diocesan Senate of Priests and was secretary and steering committee member of the New England Consultation of Church Leaders.
The  New England Consul–tation of Church Leaders brought together 85 top-level leaders of Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant leaders in Northborough in 1969 to get better acquainted, to find fields of work in which there were possible areas of cooperation and to  discuss historical, cultural and structural factors “to which we must be sensitive as we seek to increase communications and cooperation,” according to a Catholic Free Press story published Oct. 10, 1969. It was said to be the first such regional consultation in the United States.
Father Burke was born on Sept. 15, 1929 in Clinton, the son of Patrick M. and Nora (Kilcoyne) Burke.
He graduated from Clinton High School in 1947. He attended the College of the Holy Cross College until 1949, then studied for the priesthood at the Seminary of Philosophy and Grand Seminary, Montreal, P.Q., Canada, from 1949 to 1955.
He was ordained a priest on May 19, 1955, by Bishop Wright in St. Paul Cathedral.
He was associate pastor of the following parishes; St. Anne, Southborough; Our Lady of the Rosary, Spencer; Our Lady of the Lake, Whalom; and Sacred Heart of Jesus, St. Bernard, St. Andrew the Apostle, St. Peter and Immaculate Conception, all in Worcester. Bishop Flanagan appointed Father Burke rector of St. Paul Cathedral on March 7, 1970.
He was named pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish on Nov. 20, 1978, and served there until he retired in 2004.
His burial was in St. John’s Cemetery in Lancaster.