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Bishop Burke finds his final, final resting place at cathedral


Bishop Joseph Burke found a new home in a familiar place. The remains of Buffalo’s ninth bishop, now rest, quite fittingly, in St. Joseph Cathedral, where he was baptized, ordained and served as a priest.

Bishop Burke had been buried in front of the chapel of Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora since his Oct. 16, 1962 death. With the future of the seminary in question, the bodies of Bishop Burke and seven others who are buried in the cemetery on the grounds, were moved. Bishop Burke’s body was laid to rest in the Bishops’ crypt behind the Blessed Sacrament Chapel on Aug. 11.

Born Aug. 27, 1886, Bishop Burke was baptized at St. Joseph Cathedral by Father James Quigley. Eleven years later Father Quigley would be named third bishop of Buffalo. No other bishop of Buffalo has the distinction of being baptized by one of his predecessors.

“It was a historic moment that nobody realized at the time, because as Father Quigley baptized the future Bishop Burke, a priest was baptizing a baby, a future bishop was baptizing a future bishop,” said Mariam Shannon, the bishop’s grand-niece. “I just love that story. I think it is so touching. It happened right here and that’s where he’s resting now.”

After a series of summer jobs that took him to Lackawanna and study that brought him to Innsbruck, Austria, Bishop Burke was ordained priest on Aug.3, 1912, by Bishop Charles Colton at St. Joseph Cathedral. Once again, his predecessor conferred a sacrament on him. After serving as a chaplain during World War I, he would serve under Msgr. Charles Duffy at the cathedral until St. Joseph’s New Cathedral was built.

When Pope Pius XII appointed then Father Burke as auxiliary bishop in 1943, few people were surprised. When Bishop Burke was chosen to succeed Cardinal Joseph O’Hara in 1952, many expected the appointment, even though it was a rare case of a native son leading his own home diocese.

A 1962 tribute issue of the Catholic Union & Echo lists a page and a half of new churches, schools, rectories and convents erected during his decade-long tenure as bishop of Buffalo. Perhaps his greatest achievement was the founding of St. John Vianney Seminary in East Aurora, later Christ the King, a decision he made after the Vincentian Fathers moved Our Lady of the Angels Seminary from Niagara University to Albany. Ground broke September 1960. It was fitting that he be buried there after his 1962 death.

Msgr. Paul J.E. Burkard offered a personal reflection during a small prayer service for the family members of the late bishop, who he served under as a young man.

“I always thought of him as a gentleman before I thought of him as a bishop,” he said. “He had a wonderful little smile. And he never left the ceremony after the Mass was over in the sacristy without going to each one of the servers saying, ‘Thank you for serving for this particular Mass.’ Just a wonderful little gesture. Here I was, a young guy contemplating priesthood and here was this bishop who was kind and friendly and a warm smile. I have to say in the back of my mind it was the image of that kind of a priest that I wanted to be. So, in some ways he was an inspiration for me all throughout my seminary years.”

Shannon also spoke at the service, describing her fascination with the work her grandmother’s brother had done for the diocese. “As I got older and older and older, I’m now 70, I appreciate his life story and his role in our area. That’s why I feel very lucky to talk about it today to keep his name alive and his legacy alive. I think it’s inspiring to the next generation that a kid from South Buffalo did all that.”

Shannon wrote a book about her grand-uncle titled, “The South Buffalo Boy Who Became Bishop,” which she considers a family memoir and a vocation story.

Joseph Simon, grand-nephew, was very young when his namesake passed away. His biggest memory of him was the chocolate he would hand out to his siblings.

“He’s sitting on the marble top table and making us all go wash our hands so we could get our chocolate. Those are my biggest memories – the chocolate.” Each of the children could take one piece of chocolate in each hand before running off and allowing the adults to talk. “A lot of chocolate got consumed. And I’m sure it was some fabulous chocolatier he got it from because they were delicious.”

The bodies of Buffalo Bishops John Timon, Stephen Ryan, Charles Colton, Edward Head and Edward Kmiec also rest in the Bishops’ Crypt.

The bodies of Msgr. Robert Wurtz and his parents, Charles and Ruth, were moved to Holy Cross Cemetery in Lackawanna. As were Father Peter McGowan and Father Kevin King. Father John Lambert Rowan, OFM, the first rector of the seminary, was moved to St. Bonaventure Cemetery in Olean.