Most Reverend John J. Burke, OFM, bishop of Miracema do Tocantins, Brazil, an alumnus of Holy Name Province, died March 14 in Brazil, during surgery to stop massive internal bleeding. John would have been 71 years of age on March 16. He has been a professed Franciscan friar for 50 years, a priest for 45 years, and a bishop for 10 years. John would have celebrated his 11th anniversary of ordination to the Episcopate on March 25.
John was born in Teaneck, N.J., on March 16, 1935, the son of Sylvester and Margaret (née McLafferty) Burke. He was baptized on March 31, 1935 at St. Joseph Church in Oradell, N.J., and attended elementary school there from 1940 to 1948. He graduated from St. Cecilia High School in Englewood (1948 to 1952), and then attended St. Joseph Seminary in Callicoon, N.Y. (1952 to 1954).
On Aug. 12, 1954, he was received into Holy Name Province, in Paterson, N.J., by Cassian Kirk and professed simple vows there on Aug. 13, 1955, before Donald Hoag. On Aug. 20, 1958, he professed solemn vows at Christ the King Seminary, Allegany, N.Y., before Celsus Wheeler. He studied philosophy at St. Francis College, Rye Beach, N.H., receiving his Bachelor of Arts from St. Bonaventure University in 1957. He then studied theology at Holy Name College, Washington, D.C.; Archbishop (later Cardinal) Egidio Vagnozzi ordained him a priest in the church of the Franciscan Monastery, Mt. Saint Sepulchre, Washington, D.C., on Feb. 25, 1961.
Following his ordination to the priesthood, John did pastoral work in Boston, Mass., and earned a Master of Arts degree in classical languages from St. Bonaventure University, while assigned as assistant prefect and teacher at St. Joseph Seminary, Callicoon, from 1962 to 1964. In 1964, John volunteered to go to Brazil as a missionary of Holy Name Province. He labored there as a priest for 31 years, always working in the central part of Brazil, in the general area of the national capital, Brasilia. He ministered as assistant pastor in Porangatu, Goias (1965-1967), seminary rector in Anapolis, Goias (1967-1970), Pastor in Quirinopolis, Goias (1971-1975), Pastor and Vice Custos at Anapolis (1976-1978), Custos and mission superior at Anapolis (1978-1987), and master of novices at Catalao (1987-1995), where he also held the position of guardian.
On Jan. 4, 1995, the Holy See appointed John as coadjutor of the Diocese of Miracema do Tocantins. Of the group of missionaries who arrived in Brazil in 1964, John was the second to be nominated bishop, the first beingCapistran Heim. The Most Reverend Theodore E. McCarrick, then Archbishop of Newark, presided at the episcopal ordination of John Joseph Burke on March 25, 1995, at his home parish of St. Peter the Apostle in River Edge, N.J.
The Diocese of Miracema do Tocantins is located in the central part of Brazil, covering some 17,800 square miles (about twice the size of New Jersey). The diocese was created in 1966 and was originally entrusted to the Irish Redemptorists under the supervision of Bishop James Collins, CSSR. When Bishop Collins retired on Feb. 14, 1996, John succeeded him as ordinary. The diocese currently numbers about 136,000 Catholics, out of a total population of 185,000 persons.