Brother Matthew Burke, C.F.X. (Robert J. Burke)
What is my gift to others?
Brother Matthew Burke passed away peacefully Friday evening at Nazareth Home from rapid degeneration of his health. As many of you know, Brother Matthew has been suffering from progressive dementia causing him confusion and frustration. In many ways his passing is a gift.
Brother Matthew was born in Brooklyn, New York to Cecilia and John Burke. He is survived by three loving sisters: Deborah May, Jacqueline Clifford and Patricia Smith. Two sisters pre-deceased Matthew: Virginia Wenz and Carole Poletto. His mother, Cecilia, died when he was a child.
His father remarried. His stepmother was Lucille Connolly Burke. Brother Matthew grew up in Queens.
Upon graduation from William Cullen Bryant High School in Long Island City, Queens, in 1956, Brother Matthew responded to God’s initial call to our way of life. He entered the Congregation at Sacred Heart Novitiate in Fort Monroe, Virginia. In 1958 he pronounced his first vows as a Xaverian Brother. He would continue his formation at Xaverian College in Silver Spring, Maryland, earning his BA in Latin and Greek from Catholic University. He graduated in 1962 with highest honors.
Over the course of his life, Brother Matthew gradually answered the question ‘What is my gift to others?’
The leadership of the Central Province readily recognized Brother Matt’s gifts. Indeed he was blessed with many talents that served his pursuit of academic excellence and educational leadership. In 1962, Matt was assigned to Nazareth High School in Brooklyn which had just opened. He was a successful teacher; blessed with a personal ‘charisma’ that endeared him to his students. Many remained in touch with him as adults.
A life-long learner, Brother Matthew did graduate studies at Catholic University and at Saint John’s University. He earned an MA in Secondary Education from Michigan University (1967) and an MS in Educational Administration from Saint John’s University (1968). In 1967 he was appointed Deputy Principal of Nazareth High School and then from 1969-1975 he served as Nazareth’s Principal. Brother Matt completed his doctoral studies at Fordham University in 1976.
From 1976 to 1983 Brother Matthew served as Principal of Saint Mary’s Ryken High School in Leonardtown, Maryland where he was responsible for implementing the merger of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth’s Saint Mary’s Academy with our Ryken High School. Brother Cornelius Hubbuch, the outgoing Principal, had arranged for the merger. Indeed it was an arduous task that benefited from Brother Matt’s gifts, especially his tenacity. In 1983-84, Brother Matt spent a sabbatical year at the Jesuit Institute for Spirituality and Worship in Berkeley, California. From 1984 through 2001 he served in congregational leadership. He was the first Director of Xaverian Brothers’ Sponsored Schools (XBSS) having established the program. Then he served as Provincial of the American Central Province from 1988-94 and as General Superior from 1995-2001. He also volunteered for a year in Romania teaching in a seminary. From 2003 to 2009, Brother Matthew was involved with various ministries in Kenya including serving as Regional Director from 2004-2009. Upon return to U.S., Brother Matthew was guest master at one of our houses in Florida and then returned to Baltimore and was involved with Catholic Charities, setting up a center for Hispanic ministries at the Assisi House at Saint Patrick’s where we once ran the elementary school.
Each of us has a gift to bring to others, and others
Yearn to receive it.
– Wayne Muller
Indeed Brother Matthew had many gifts that we needed. His signature talents were his drive to achieve, his ability to organize, initiate and complete a project, his intelligence, his inclination to control, his will power and his stamina. The gifts he brought to others in personal relationships were his ability to listen, concern for others, warmth and an ability to build rapport. Brother Matthew could be fun to be with.
However, many times Brother Matthew found these gifts in tension. He could also be rather impatient. It seemed that the task at hand would often trump what was needed in the personal relationship. He was strong-willed; clearly the boss. From having worked with Brother Matthew closely on the issues of Sponsorship and our mission in Bolivia, I know he was aware of his impatience. I know also that he brought his impatience to his prayer. His love for our vocation was clear. His strong desire to see Xaverian life continue into the future compelled him to undertake many projects in our name: establishing our Sponsorship (XBSS), encouraging Brothers to go to Bolivia, starting the Bolivian formation, volunteer and associate programs, the initial establishment of regional governance in Congo, the new commitment to Xaverian life in Kenya, along with the Kenyan formation program.
The gift you have received give as a gift.
Brother Matthew certainly heeded this exhortation. In my Father’s Wake, the Irish writer, Kevin Toolis, makes the point, “The dead belong to those who loved them.” (265) Brother Matthew’s life has been a gift to many people. He is our Brother. Grateful for what Brother Matthew did for the Congregation, we also realize that no gift is perfect. We pray that Brother Matt is enjoying the warm intimacy of God’s love.
I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
– Thomas Merton, Prayer of Trust
May Brother Matthew Rest In Peace.
Brother Edward Driscoll, CFX
“We do not exist for ourselves alone, and it is only when we are fully convinced of this fact that we begin to love ourselves properly and thus also love others. What do I mean by loving ourselves properly? I mean, first of all, desiring to live, accepting life as a very great gift and a great good, not because of what it gives us, but because of what it enables us to give to others“
― Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island
It is with a sad heart I learn of the passing of Brother Matthew. As a student that was involved in the merger of SMA and RHS, I know it was a difficult undertaking but a successful one. As an alumni and current board member at SMRHS, I extend my sincere sympathies to his family and the Ryken community for a great loss.
Sue Ann Armitage
He was a wonderful, kind, loving brother & will be missed. I will miss our many phone calls. We have many fond memories which will keep him in our hearts forever. May he rest in peace.
Rest in peace Br. Mathew, a true servant of God. You did a wonderful work in Kenya.
Rest in Peace Brother Matt. You shall remain a mentor to me after living with you in the Novitiate in Nairobi-Kenya. May God receive your soul in eternal peace!
I would like to extend my deepest sympathy to the Xaverian community and his beloved sisters Deborah, Jacqueline, and Patricia. I first met Brother Matthew on an immersion experience to Romania in the summer of 1994 when Sister Sandra and I, Bernardine Franciscans, were deciding if we would minister in Romania. The three of us flew to Cluj from Bucharest in a vintage German plane. I recall with laughter, as Matthew’s seat would not stay upright during the flight. In the restaurant of the local hotel in Cluj, we discerned over a bottle of shared beer (there was nothing else on the menu at 6:30 in the evening) that we could accept the call to be missionaries in Romania.
We all returned to Romania and Matthew not only taught the seminarians but also mentored the young bishop in the Cluj diocese of the Greek Catholic Church. We were four American missionaries in Cluj. Sister Anita Green, Divine Providence Sister, was in Romania under the auspices of the Catholic Health Association in the United States. On many occasions and non-occasions, we gathered in our small apartment with a meal and a lively discussion that followed through the afternoon.
When Matthew was elected General Superior and had to return to the States, we had a going away party with every imaginable baked dessert with 26 people crowded in our small apartment. Matthew always enjoyed our cooking especially desserts.
Brother Matthew was well loved and respected for sharing his many gifts with the faith community of the Greek Catholic Church in Romania. Indeed, he touched their lives with the imprint of God’s goodness.
It is with a heavy and sad heart that I say good-bye to a brother and a friend to Sister Sandra and me. May his soul rest in the gentle embrace of a loving Jesus.
Sister Roberta Ann Leskey, OSF
I was Very close to Br. Matt, he was a very good friend of my Family and a person of good heart. Although he appeared harsh sometimes, he always wanted things started and completed. He mentored me as a young man in leadership, i will never forget his skills especially in handling issues of administration. He is being laid to rest on my Birthday.
May God rest his soul in Peace.
Francis George Onyango-Aketch
I am so very sorry to read of Br. Matthew’s passing. He was Provincial during a very difficult time for me, deciding to stay or leave the Brothers. I will be forever grateful for his advice and kindness to me throughout the whole process. I will miss him on my visits to Ryken House during my visits to Louisville.
I was a student at Nazareth HS in the 1960s and I have very vivid memories of Brother Matthew. At that time, I did my best to keep a very low profile, very low. Brother Matthew was a person of high station to stay clear of. Then, to my everlasting embarrassment, my father, an attorney, called Brother Matthew after I told him about some student bullying abuse at school and I know he probably grilled Brother Matthew, al la courtroom attorney, unmercifully about my complaint. I had no idea this was going on. To his credit, Brother Matthew called me into the General Office to make sure I was OK. However, I was petrified and when asked I admitted nothing to Brother Matthew, I was mortified that my father had called the school. Brother Matthew knew better and sort of looked after me for the next few years. I didn’t realize the importance of his concern until I was long graduated. I am very grateful that he did what he did it at the time. It really did help me.
Thank you, Brother Matthew.
The last time we saw each other was at the 50th Anniversary dinner for Nazareth High School. Although I had not seen or talked to you in more than 3 decades, you absolutely stunned me by recognizing me when I came up to you late in the evening. And then you gave me your undivided attention for the next 30 minutes while we talked about Nazareth, it’s status, and how you wanted to do whatever you could to help keep the school going.
What you didn’t realize was that you already had done a tremendous service to Nazareth by leading and guiding countless young men (Naz was all male during my 4 years) like myself to becoming decent, upstanding, forward thinking citizens as we entered adulthood. The excellent teaching and leadership provided by all of the teachers who served under you at that time made a world of difference in getting us through a difficult time period for our country and our local communities (the Vietnam war, anti-war demonstrations, the civil rights movement…to name a few). You and the staff did an unbelievable job in helping us to understand all that was happening around us. But the most important lesson that you and the staff imparted to us was how to be independent thinkers and form our own opinions.
On a more personal note, you might remember that you and I did not get off to a good start. My very first encounter with you was a very uncomfortable one for me. But I deserved it! Showing up for my orientation day in completely inappropriate attire and thinking that I could get away with it. What the heck was I thinking!!! And although you could have made a very public display of me that day at our general assembly, you chose an action that clearly made your point to me without publicly embarrassing me in front of my new classmates. You were tough, fair and tactful all at the same time. In truth, you were merciful when you didn’t have to be. I learned my lesson that day and you never had another problem from me for the duration of my Nazareth career.
Thank you for being there. Not just for me but for all of us Kingsmen. I’m glad that I got to tell you that at the 50th anniversary dinner because I know that I spoke for most of us that were at Naz during those years.
Finally, I wish you the eternal peace and joy that you so earnestly deserve. You are truly one of a kind!