September 17, 2016
Born: January 2, 1935
Died: September 2, 2016
What Could Be Better?
By Amy Korpi
Often, we think of Jesuits working in the heart of cities, not enjoying nature’s wonders in the middle of a wilderness. Yet we know Saint Ignatius designed Jesuit formation – and the spirituality that takes his name – with an emphasis on all creation being a gift from God, worthy of our reverence and stewardship.
Similarly, we tend to think of Jesuits as givers, not receivers. But as they live out the Ignatian ideal of finding God in all things, it is clear that Jesuits derive great joy from their vocations.
Father Bill Burke, SJ, has embodied these Jesuit characteristics for more than 50 years – perhaps most markedly during his ministry in Alaska and Montana.
This particular aspect of Fr. Burke’s journey began when he was working as the development director for what was then the Chicago Province of the Society of Jesus. A fellow Jesuit told him about the great fishing in Alaska.
“I’ve loved fishing since childhood,” Fr. Burke recalls. “So from that point on, I knew I wanted to go there.”
Father Burke did far more than go there; he spent 20 years in ministry in Alaska, followed by nine in a location with comparable natural beauty: Montana. He worked mostly as a hospital chaplain.
“I loved my work,” he says, “and I loved Alaska and Montana, especially the opportunities they afforded me to fish. I caught a 52-pound king salmon in Alaska’s Kenai River, and I did lots of fly fishing for trout in Missoula and Billings, Montana.”
Father Burke’s message to all is that anyone can do what they love while also following God’s will. Ignatian spirituality teaches that the two are intertwined.
As Fr. Burke puts it, “The Society has given me the opportunity to pursue my dreams and to be of service to others at the same time – to work, fish, pray, and write poetry.”
I BREATHE WHITE
I breathe white.
So do spruce
And the Alaskan Highway.
We’re all a prayer,
A white prayer,
Cool communion with
And white mountains,
And white lynx cat-dancing
Silent and swift
On a white evening,
Chasing Halley’s Comet’s tail.
— Fr. Bill Burke, SJ
Today, living at the Colombiere Center in Clarkston, Mich., Fr. Burke continues to feel gratitude for his Jesuit life.
“An essential part of my vocation is friendship with my fellow Jesuits in community,” he explains. “Living at Colombiere is fun. I came here five years ago, and I enjoy it. My fellow Jesuits are wonderful. They are a real source of inspiration and strength. I say Mass here and at Lourdes Senior Community, so I am still serving others. I also continue to write a little poetry, and I fish as often as I can. What could be better?”
When asked to give advice to someone considering a vocation with the Jesuits, Fr. Burke’s answer is simple:
“Run, don’t walk. This is the best adventure you will ever have.
Fr. William T. Burke, SJ, was called to eternal life on September 2, 2016.
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