William T. Burke
Fr. William T. Burke, SJ
In addition to Jesus and fishing, Bill loved poetry and had his own work published. He shared his loves with all he met, always greeting people with a smile and, at times, a poem.
View remembrances
William T. Burke

Let us pray in thanksgiving for the life of Fr. William T. Burke, SJ, who died on Friday, September 2, 2016, at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland hospital in Pontiac, Mich. He was 81 years old, a Jesuit for 57 years, and a priest for 47 years. 

Bill was born on January 2, 1935, in Hammond, Ind. He studied biology at Loyola University Chicago (1952-1957), before entering the Society of Jesus on September 1, 1959, at Milford Novitiate in Milford, Ohio. As a Jesuit, he earned bachelor's and licentiate degrees in philosophy (1964), as well as a master's degree in education, with a concentration in biology, from Saint Louis University (1966). He was ordained a priest on May 29, 1969, in North Aurora, Ill. He professed final vows on February 2, 1976, in the provincial residence in Oak Park, Ill.

In 1970, Bill earned a licentiate degree in sacred theology from Bellarmine School of Theology in North Aurora. That year, he also earned a master's of divinity from Loyola University Chicago. In 1991, Bill became a certified chaplain in the National Association of Catholic Chaplains.

Bill taught biology at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis during his regency and after his ordination. After his ordination, he also did graduate studies in microbiology at Loyola University's Stritch School of Medicine (1971-1973). While studying microbiology Bill did some pastoral ministry at St. Mary Parish in Riverside, Ill. (1972-73). The desire to help people pastorally far outweighed his interest in microbiology, and Bill eventually found himself ministering at Saint Ignatius Loyola Parish in Sacramento (1973-1976). The Society then asked him to use his gifts for internal ministry with the Jesuits, and Bill became director of the Development Center at the Chicago Province office (1976-1980), before serving as director of Senior Jesuit Programs (1980-1981). In addition to his other duties, he was minister of his Jesuit community (1979-1981). 

Throughout his life, Bill was an avid fisherman and fished whenever he could. While working in the province office, he heard there was great fishing in Alaska and decided to find out if this was true. After a well-earned sabbatical, he moved to Alaska, where he worked and fished  he caught a 52-pound king salmon in Alaska's Kenai River — for 20 years. He was a pastoral minister at Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Nome (1981) and pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Delta Junction (1982-1987). Bill then worked as a chaplain at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital (1987-1989), was trained in CPE in Spokane, Wash. (1989-1990), and was chaplain at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage (1990-2001).
Bill moved to Montana in 2001, where he was an associate pastor at St. Francis Xavier Church in Missoula. He spent the next 10 years as a chaplain, working at St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula (2001-2005) and St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, Mont. (2005-2010). After moving to Colombiere Center in 2010, Bill performed pastoral ministry until health issues prevented him from doing so. 

In addition to Jesus and fishing, Bill loved poetry and had his own work published. He shared his loves with all he met, always greeting people with a smile and, at times, a poem. The following poem of his appeared in the National Catholic Reporter. He wrote it when he was in Anchorage:


"Who is God?" his teacher asked.
"God is a string bean,"
the boy replied.

Supreme Beings are hard
to come by when you're seven.
"That's fine," the teacher wisely said.

No one laughed. Each one 
wished secretly he had 
a chance to say string bean. 
What a wonderful name for God!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016 
4 - 7 p.m. 
Service at 7 p.m. 
Colombiere Center 
9075 Big Lake Rd. 
Clarkston, MI 48346

Thursday, September 8, 2016 
10:45 a.m. 
Colombiere Center 
9075 Big Lake Rd. 
Clarkston, MI 48346
In Memoriam
Your name

Your email

Your comment


Jesuits Summer 2020

Jesuits Spring 2020

Jesuits Fall Winter 2019

October 31, 201712:05 PM
After I read his obit it I realized I only worked with Fr. Burke for about 2 years. What a big impact he had on my life! He helped my husband and I through our first difficult year adjusting to Alaska. I can not express in words what a good friend Fr. Burke has been to me. The world is a sadder place knowing he is not down here – Deborah Rainville

Bellarmine Jesuit Retreat House
Bellarmine Jesuit Retreat House is located on 80 acres of gently rolling meadows and wooded countryside just 40 miles northwest of Chicago.