02 February 2011

Columban Father Robert W. Burke RIP

Please pray for the soul of Fr Robert W. Burke who died on 24 January in Chicago. Father Bob was ordained in 1949 as a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago but later became a Columban. He worked for many years in Negros Occidental in the area given to the Columbans in 1950 that became the Diocese of Kabankalan in 1987.

Father Bob around the time of his ordination in 1949

Below is an obituary sent by the Director of the Columbans in the USA, Fr Arturo Aguilar.

Rev. Robert W. Burke, SSC
Darien, Illinois

Born: October 15, 1923 (born in Visitation Parish, Chicago, IL)

Died: January 24, 2011 (at Emeritus Assisted Living Facility in Burr Ridge, IL)

Fr. Robert W. Burke, SSC was born in Chicago in 1923. He died January 24, 2011, at age 87, after nearly 62 years serving as a Catholic priest.

Born and raised in Chicago, Fr. Burke spent his summers on the family dairy farm in Casco, Wisconsin. The hard work and love of the outdoors helped prepare him later for his missionary work in the Philippines. Fr. Burke often joked that this experience contributed to a “healthy constitution.”

A more recent photo

Fr. Burke was raised with the family rosary and as a child always had a May altar in his room. His sister, Mary Rita remembers how at an early age, Fr. Bob wanted to be a priest. “As early as four- and five-years-old, we played communion. We would put a chair down sideways in a doorway to create the altar railing, where Bob would give me Necco candy wafers for communion.”

A true Cubs fan, he worked as an Andy Frain during the 1945 Cubs World Series. While attending his earlier years in seminary at Quigley High School, Fr. Burke delivered 50 lb. blocks of ice in the early morning to the three- and four-flats before attending daily classes at Quigley.

Following graduation from St. Mary of the Lake Major Seminary in 1949, he was ordained for the Archdiocese of Chicago and said his first Mass at St. Sabina Parish in Chicago. He was assigned to St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Oak Park, IL (now known as St. Catherine of Siena Parish/St. Lucy). In 1954, Fr. Burke requested permission to join the Missionary Society of St. Columban which was granted.

In 1955, as a Columban Father, he was appointed to Negros Occidental, Republic of the Philippines, where he arrived by freighter and spent 38 years in various assignments including the communities of Isabela, Kabankalan, the barrio of Bacuyangan in Hinoba-an and Bacolod.

'Look up at the Lord with gladness and smile; your face will never be ashamed (Ps 33:6)'.
Communion Antiphon, Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, the day before Father Bob died peacefully.

The Columban Fathers mission is to serve others, especially the poor. With a strong Chicago backing through the then newly formed St. Catherine of Siena Mission Club, Fr. Burke’s causes were supported throughout his many years in the Philippines, building schools and churches in the various Filipino communities. He found the people of the Philippines to be a generous and welcoming community. Fr. Burke most enjoyed the Filipino gatherings involving song and dance. His favorite sharing song was Yellow Bird, which will forever be linked to him.

In the early 1980’s Negros received international attention for its non-violent protests in support of a better life for the poor. Attention stemmed from harsh actions by the Marcos regime taken against local clergy and, in particular, the Columban Fathers. In 1993 he returned to the Chicago area and served the Filipino community and assisted at Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in Darien, IL, until health issues limited his active ministry.

Fr. Burke lived his final days at Emeritus assisted living facility in Burr Ridge, where he felt his final calling. It was his hope to continue his mission in his new capacity, sharing his final days with those dealing with daily struggles, where he previously assisted as chaplain. His care-takers felt a warmth from his smile and just as he did throughout his life, he made a difference to the lives of those surrounding him.

Fr. Burke was the son of the late William D. Burke and Mary Clare Butler Burke. He is survived his sister Mary Rita (Robert) Braasch of Darien, IL and brothers Dr. Donald (Lori) Burke of Racine, WI, Fr. Alfred Burke, OSA a pastor in Yokohama, Japan. Was the uncle to Robert (Susan) Braasch Jr, William (Vera) Braasch, Thomas Braasch, Kathleen (Paul) Dobill, Marita (Scott) Blanken, James Braasch, Daniel Braasch, Gerald (Teresa) Braasch, Michael Burke, Timothy (Lucy) Burke, Susan (John) Verhaeghe, Donald (Jean) Burke, Mark (Laurie) Burke, Maureen (Levent) Bayraktar, and many great-nephews and -nieces.


You can read an article by Father Burke about a march from Kabankalan to Bacolod City in 1984 in support of the Negros Nine in which he and other Columbans took part on the website of the Negros Nine Human Development Foundation, Inc: An Eyewitness Account of Exodus 84.

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