1945 – 2016

Words of Remembrance for Brother Joseph Burke, FSC

Given by Brother Michael McGinniss, FSC, President Emeritus and Professor, La Salle University
Mass of Christian Burial
De La Salle Chapel, La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA
July 7, 2016

As I have thought about the man whom I have known since high school when he would deliver the La Salle High Wisterian to my 8th period Latin class with Brother Emilian, it dawned on me that for at least the last twenty-five years our lives and friendship had been intertwined around university leadership—obviously here at La Salle but also at Christian Brothers University in Memphis, where Joe served as a trustee during my presidency. And this thought brought back a comment that President Hanycz made in an email to me that Joe and I must have shared a lot of presidential secrets. We did, and I would add “also some presidential Manhattans and martinis.”

Joe has a list of presidential accomplishments that are probably familiar to many of us: opening the Newtown campus and increasing La Salle’s regional presence in graduate education; getting La Salle into the A-10—where his professional and personal connection to a couple of the member presidents proved invaluable; renovating Hayman Hall to include Gola Arena; appointing Barbara Millard, the first woman to lead the School of Arts and Sciences; serving on the board of the Free Library of Philadelphia for many years; initiating the academic planning that gave birth to the PsyD, the programs in Communication Sciences and Nutrition and several undergraduate and graduate programs in Arts and Sciences and some new majors in Business. That planning became the platform for La Salle’s expansion in the years following Joe’s presidency. He also had his share of challenges: having to reduce the size of full-time faculty and to lead the university throughout much of the American discussions around Ex Corde Ecclesiae which many feared would compromise academic freedom and diminish the stature and influence of Catholic higher education. Much as Joe respected Cardinal Bevilacqua, I believe he and the other Catholic school presidents would have preferred to spend less time on Cardinal Drive. But those meetings began a process that greatly affected the Cardinal’s appreciation of the Catholic mission of our universities and colleges and, due to his influence in the Bishops’ Conference, led to a collaborative and productive implementation of Ex Corde.

But listing things Joe did as La Salle’s president is inadequate tonight as we celebrate his life, give thanks for his impact in our lives, and accompany him liturgically to the heavenly choirs of angels and saints. A list doesn’t tell what those achievements meant to Joe. Surely he knew that they moved La Salle forward, a goal to which all presidents strive. But what did they mean for and in Joe’s life.

To answer that question I will let Joe speak for himself, something he had no trouble doing until cancer got the better of him, in an article entitled, “Change, Humor and Heroism” for the Christian Brothers Spirituality Series. These words seem to foreshadow his last days, but they apply as well to the way that Joe lived:

. . . Most of us prefer happiness to suffering, although we are not always capable of defining happiness, and what constitutes suffering can differ from person to person. Still, most of us past adolescence have had a taste of unavoidable suffering, some of it subjective (recognition of a personal limitation or feelings of inadequacy in a relationship, for example) and some of it rather objective (personal illness or the death of a loved one, for example). In the face of unavoidable suffering and death, we may recall Dylan Thomas’ admonition: “Do not go gentle into that good night . . . Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” In a sense, Thomas is saying something about an attitude that allows us to face suffering and death. Human beings are capable of acting in the face of suffering and death, and need never be reduced to simply reacting. Our personal peace and psychological well-being are dependent on our ability to assume an active attitude in the face of unavoidable distress. Happiness may be illusive (or even illusory), but meaning, one’s unique sense of personal purpose and mission, is discoverable in each human life regardless of the amount of suffering one endures and the inevitability of death. Indeed, the changeless element in the world of life’s changes is our individual capacity to endow all of life’s ups and downs with meaning. For those of us who are believers, our relationship with God can be a source of personal meaning and a valuable context for discovering meaning in relationships, work, and family, or community. Human beings have the capacity to accept limitations, suffering, the death of loved ones, and even the prospect of our own imminent death and say, “Now what will I do with my life?” Put another way, within the context of a faith commitment, “Given the awful thing that is happening to me, and knowing that God has not abandoned me, what unique mission or goal can I fulfill that will bring beauty, knowledge, or good to the world?”

Our presence in this assembly testifies to the answer that Joe gave to that question.

Joe: may the choirs of angels lead you into Paradise.

David Falcone, Chair, Psychology Department, La Salle University:

Today is a very sad day. We have lost a dear friend, and yet, today, while living in the sadness in this story, we must find another, one from which we can celebrate the life of Brother Joseph Burke.

And, Beth and Michael, while knowing there is no place of solace to escape the loss, perhaps there is some comfort in knowing that so many of us carry your loving brother, Brother Joe, in our hearts.

Not too long ago, in his comments after receiving the Dondero award, Joe shared his thoughts, “In my life now I have the opportunity to mentor (my) students—to mentor . . . subtly yet with  determination. This is the joy of my life.” This is what Joe loved. This is how I will remember him.

He loved his students . . . who they were and what they were to become . . . and how they found their way, and how he could walk with them and share in their stories. He loved being an educator. He loved knowledge and learning and teaching and telling stories. He loved the kids.

I once read that to love is to “give what one does not have and to receive that over which one has no power”. I think this is a wonderful description of Joe’s work as an educator.

Joe was an amazing teacher. And has been a teacher for a very long time. Longer than most of us know. Beth recently told me about how, when she was just a little girl and Joe just a little older, she would peek through the door of his room where Joe would be at his blackboard teaching his imaginary students.

I have to surmise that he probably realized, that while this was a good start, it was insufficient to launch a career, and so he moved on to earn a degree from La Salle as an English Major, M.Ed. in Educational Administration from the University of Miami, and a Ph.D. in Human Behavior from the United States International University.

And then he returned to La Salle. Invited to join the department by Jack Dondero in 1973, he came back to La Salle and according to Jack Rooney, “made a big splash right from the start. He was a star from the beginning.” And we know the rest of the story. I once read that a teacher can be thought of as someone who helps us to imagine the unimaginable. This is how I will remember Joe.

I don’t know how to convincingly convey to you how remarkable Joe was at this. I can tell you about the numerous testimonies I have heard over the years from my students about Joe’s “magic in the classroom”. And how many lives he changed. I can tell you about my own experiences sitting in on his classes. I can tell you that he won a Lindback award. But, instead, I am going to share only one story that will have to fill in for all the rest. It was a Face Book comment posted by a recent graduate who enrolled in every class that Joe taught, and who also sought Joe’s advice and counsel in continuing his own academic career. Upon hearing of Joe’s passing, he wrote, “I promise to make you proud and honor your legacy by successfully completing my doctoral degree and then being the best educator and mentor I can be just as you were for me. You were such an inspiration.” This is how I will remember Joe.

Brother Joe was a teacher outside of the classroom as well. He has taught us so much through his leadership and guidance and example. These are interesting times . . . for some, loyalty and commitment and the long-term seem passe’ or even a hindrance to success, but Joe continued to remind us that progress does not have to sacrifice tradition, that achievement can be attained with humility, and that the difficult can be approached with patience. Joe demonstrated that lifelong learning requires a lifelong commitment.

Our friendship was made of all this . . . a bond forged in our experience as educators, the common purposes and hopes, what we could imagine and could not, what we loved, and what we believed about the usefulness of our work. This is how I will remember Brother Joe. How he has taught so much to so many and for so long.

Even so, his role as a teacher is not complete. There is one more lesson for us to learn. This past week I came to realize that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine a world without Brother Joseph Burke.

And herein is Joe’s last assignment . . . what we must learn . . . the unimaginable . . . to get on with things without him. We have to learn ways to continue without his reassurance, his gentle guidance, his unique sense of humor, and the special ways he stood before us. But maybe, too, we have to learn something else. Joe, you are gone and yet you remain. You are here with us, in each of us. This room is filled with you, with your story. And even though (and I hope I can say this) God is better off because he has you so near. We, too, continue to keep you close, to keep you alive, carrying you in our memories, thoughts, prayers, and in our hearts. This is how we will remember you.

Not so long ago when I presented Brother Joe for the Dondero award, I borrowed the final words he used to complete the acknowledgements section of his book Contemporary Approaches to Psychotherapy and Counseling and rewrote them to fit the occasion. I would like to do so again, taking his final words to find mine . . .

In his book Joe wrote: “This book is lovingly and respectfully dedicated to more than a decade’s worth of undergraduate and graduate students at La Salle University. Some of them have actually thought of me as a mentor, or at least as a cheerleader in their quest for knowledge. This book was written for them, and to some extent, by them, but they should not be held responsible for it. Nor should blame be directed at my understanding colleagues who have found so many nice ways to say, “Isn’t that book done yet?”

So I close with our final words, our dedication and acknowledgement to Joe and all that he has meant to us . . . “This moment, these words, our memories and thoughts and prayers are lovingly and respectfully dedicated to you, from all of us . . . the more than four decade’s worth of students, colleagues, and friends at La Salle University. So many of us will remember you as a mentor, and cheerleader in our quest for knowledge. Today and for days to come, we will celebrate your life, a story that was written by you, and as you intended, written for us. And know that while we cannot hold you responsible for a story that ended too soon, try not to blame your students and colleagues who struggle to find a nice way to say, ‘We cannot believe your work here is done?’”

I miss you, Joe. That is what it means to remember. I will miss you for a long time to come. We all will.

Email Excerpts from Lizabeth, Brother Joseph Burke’s Sister:

To most of you, he is Joe, Dr. Burke, Brother Joe Burke. To his family, he is known as “The Great Pasta.” As with most family nicknames, the origin is debatable.

Joe always wanted to be a cowboy! He was the Sheriff and I was the Deputy.

After he started school, he wanted to be a teacher. I would lie prone and peek under his bedroom door where I could hear him teaching his imaginary students or his imaginary seven brothers, writing on the chalkboard with great emphasis. All students were assembled on his Hopalong bedspread as he spoke with dramatic phrases!

Joe didn’t just speak to his pretend class, he would hold forth, no doubt reminiscent of our childhood dinners where my dad would recount his day in the operating room with graphic descriptions of gallbladders, sutures, and the right instruments for the job. While my dad would be recounting, Joe and I were slipping the food we didn’t like to the dog!

As you all know, Joe was Joe was Joe-in-control but tempered with kindness, patience, and a sense of humor. I will miss his sense of humor and his sarcasm. He had a great eye for irony and laughing with him was a true joy.

During his days in the hospital, he went along with all procedures—no complaints and always treated his caregivers with kindness and respect.

One time when I told him I loved him, he said love was all around him. He loved one million people and one million people loved him. I am so very proud he is my brother. Each and every one of you are part of the one million people that he will always love!

The Burke family thanks the La Salle Community for loving him so much. The Sheriff (the Great Pasta) and his Deputy (Beth) will always love you very much.

Please pray for the happy repose of the soul of BROTHER JOSEPH BURKE, FSC

Born Joseph Francis Burke in Philadelphia, PA, on August 29, 1945

Entered the Ammendale, MD, Novitiate on June 15, 1963

Received the Religious Habit and Name, Brother Joseph Gratian, on September 1, 1963

Pronounced Perpetual Vows in Miami, FL, on May 13, 1971

Br. Joseph died at the Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, PA, on July 3, 2016



Thursday, July 7, 2016

Viewing from 4:00 – 7:00 pm
Mass of Christian Burial at 7:00 pm

The De La Salle Chapel
La Salle University
1900 West Olney Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19141-1199

Friday, July 8, 2016

Burial in the Brothers’ cemetery at 11:00 am

La Salle Hall
6001 Ammendale Road
Beltsville, MD 20705-1202

Luncheon to follow


District: 50 masses
Roncalli community: 30 masses
Each community in the District: 1 mass

Brother Joseph passed away peacefully during the early morning after battling a very aggressive cancer since March. May he rest in peace.


Elkins Park, PA

Miami, FL
Immaculata – La Salle High School

San Diego, CA
United States International University

Philadelphia, PA
La Salle University

Hartford, CT
University of Hartford

Philadelphia, PA
La Salle University (Roncalli Community)

Philadelphia, PA
La Salle University (Roncalli Community)

Philadelphia, PA
La Salle University (Roncalli Community)