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Catholic Life Features

175 Flashback: Joseph Burke, the destined to be bishop


Bishop Joseph Burke has the distinction of being the first Buffalo-born bishop, and the only native son to serve as Buffalo’s ordinary, serving from 1952 until his death 10 years later.

He seemed almost destined for the role. Born Aug. 27, 1886, he 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.

The Canisius College grad went on to study at the University of Innsbruck in Austria. He was ordained a priest on Aug. 3, 1912, by Bishop Charles Colton at St. Joseph Cathedral. Once again, his predecessor conferred a sacrament on him.

After his ordination, he served as an Army chaplain during World War I, serving on the Belgian front. After the war, he would serve under Msgr. Charles Duffy at St. Joseph Cathedral while St. Joseph’s New Cathedral was being built. He also taught at Mount Carmel Guild and D’Youville College in Buffalo.

When Pope Pius XII appointed then-Father Burke as the first auxiliary bishop of Buffalo in 1943, few people were surprised. Following the death of Bishop John A. Duffy in September 1944, Bishop Burke served as apostolic administrator until the appointment of Bishop John O’Hara the following March.

Bishop Burke again led the diocese after Bishop O’Hara was appointed Archbishop of Philadelphia.  

When Bishop Burke was chosen to succeed Bishop (later Cardinal) O’Hara in 1952, many expected the appointment, even though it was a rare case of a native son leading his own home diocese.

His installation as ninth bishop of the diocese took place on April 30, 1952.

During his 10-year-long administration, Bishop Burke continued the expansion of educational institutions, including St. John Vianney Seminary (later Christ the King) in East Aurora.

Bishop Burke died in Rome, while attending sessions for the Second Vatican Council. His body was buried at Christ the King Seminary, but later moved to St. Joseph Cathedral, where he was baptized, ordained and served as a priest.


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