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 the 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 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 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 the 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 willpower, 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 also know 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