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Goodness personified

De Facto

A tribute to the late Fr Patrick Burke

Liamy MacNally

Goodness personified. Two simple words, yet they sum up the life of Westport curate, Fr Patrick Burke, who died suddenly on June 25. Fr Patrick came to St Mary’s Church in Westport only two years ago and was due to leave this month to take up duty as parish priest in An Cheathrú Rua in Galway.
He was a quiet man, unassuming, yet that quietness belied his depth of character. One of his awe-inspiring attributes was his lack of judgement. He simply did not indulge. Judgement is reserved to God. He knew that.
He also knew that the only commandment from God to us is to love, love God and one another. Fr Patrick knew it, not a suggestion, exhortation or request but for it really is, a commandment. He took it seriously. He loved God and those whom he met. He lived that commandment in his short life.
He was a holy man without being pious. His priesthood was his life. He took it seriously, following in the steps of the Good Shepherd, an image he simply cherished. Often describing himself in his most amusing manner as a small sheep farmer, he loved, as Pope Francis would say, ‘the smell of the sheep’. He used the Good Shepherd image beautifully at my uncle’s (Tadhg Hastings’) Funeral Mass last December. They had sheep in common, as well as the Good Shepherd.
Recently, as part of an Association of Catholic Priests online promotion of the varied work of priests, I invited him to submit an article about being pastorally responsible for Clare Island and Inishturk. His article, published on June 6 – Feast of St Jarlath – makes for beautiful reading alongside lovely photos. It has since been featured on social media and excerpts appeared in national newspapers (www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2018/06/island-ministry).
One can safely say that Fr Patrick had no ego. It seemed he had discarded that part of himself many moons ago. He had experienced suffering through illness as a young lad, so priorities have a habit of rising to the surface in such circumstances.
To think that one of his last actions as a priest was ‘passing on the priesthood’. It was he who removed the deacon’s stole from newly ordained John Regan in St Mary’s Church on Sunday, June 24, and replaced it with the priest’s stole, the symbol of his ministerial priesthood. It is always a moving moment in an ordination ceremony. In this case it is also most poignant.
When news broke of Fr Patrick’s death it sent shock waves across the town. It was truly unbelievable. The sense of sadness permeated the streets. It was palpable among the people.
On Tuesday morning at 10 o’clock Mass, Rev Val Rogers, Rector of Holy Trinity Church, Westport shared the altar with Fr Charlie. It was an act of Christian unity that spoke volumes. Ecumenists pray for such simple expressions of inter-Christian faith and love. We were blessed to be there.
Archbishop Michael Neary preached the homily at Fr Patrick’s funeral Mass: “His short life was framed by two Papal visits.  He was born just a few weeks after Saint John Paul II visited Knock in 1979.  He was called home by the Lord just weeks before Pope Francis would come and pray at the Shrine. We lay Patrick to rest on this Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul… 
“Priesthood, lived generously is a powerful witness to Jesus Christ. This is especially true in the case of Patrick Burke, one who covered so much ground, at home in any company.  He enjoyed and encouraged younger people in their search, supported the elderly in their ageing and fragility, always, however, with a deep sense of acceptance and respect. It came as no surprise, then, over recent days to hear so many people speak of Patrick in terms of friendship. Their hearts were broken, and they fought back tears as they spoke of what he meant to them.”
People from Westport, Drummin, Lecanvey, Clare Island, Inishturk and beyond attended Mass for Fr Patrick in Westport, offering thanks for a live well lived. We pray support for his family, relatives and friends. We share their loss and grief. Suaimhneas síoraí ar a anam.

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