Société des Missions Africaines – Province d'Irlande

BURKE John né le 22 février 1942
dans le diocèse de Limerick, Irlande
membre de la SMA le 23 juin 1961
prêtre le 19 décembre 1966
décédé le 19 novembre 2006

1967-1979 missionnaire au Nigeria, Ibadan
1979-1990 missionnaire au Nigeria, Lagos
1990-1992 Ottawa, canada, études de droit canonique
1992-2006 Nigeria, archidiocèse de Lagos

décédé à Dublin, Irlande, le 19 novembre 2006
à l’âge de 64 ans

Father John Patrick BURKE (1942 2006)

John Burke was born in the parish of Donoghmore (his home address was 16, McDonagh Ave., Janesboro, Limerick city), in the diocese of Limerick, on 22 February 1942.
He died in St. James’ Hospital, Dublin, on 19 November 2006.

John was one of four children born to John and Catherine (nee Costelloe) Burke. His father, who worked in nearby Shannon Airport, died in 1972. His mother lived until 1998. His first cousin, Fr. J. Burke was a priest in the U.S.A. John was baptised in the parish of St. Michael’s on 26th February 1942. He received both his primary and secondary education with the Christian Brothers at Sexton St., Limerick, completing his leaving certificate in 1960. John was a studious, hard-working, serious-minded young man. Setting his sights on a life as a missionary priest he entered the Society’s novitiate or ‘spiritual year’ at Kilcolgan, Co Galway, in the autumn of 1960. A year later he commenced his philosophical studies in the Society’s major seminary, at Dromantine, Newry, Co Down. He received his theological formation in Dromantine between 1963-1967. John was first welcomed as a member of the Society on 23rd June 1961. He became a permanent member on 14th June 1966. John was ordained a priest by Bishop Eugene O’Doherty of Dromore diocese, in St. Colman’s cathedral, Newry, on 19 December 1966. He was one of a class of eleven ordained on that day.

After ordination John was posted to the diocese of Ibadan, in Western Nigeria. However his departure was delayed for some time because of the civil war then raging in southern and eastern Nigeria. During his time of waiting John kept busy attending a course at U.C.C. and another at the Catholic Communications Centre in Dublin. Eventually, in June 1968, he was able to travel to Nigeria. John spent his first six months in the Society’s tyrocinium at St. Leo’s, Challenge, Ibadan, where he was introduced to the missionary life and studied the Yoruba language. He was then appointed to the city parish of Oke Ado. However he was to spend most of his first tour of duty and, indeed, the years up to 1978, in Holy Cross parish, Ikire, situated in a growing town some twenty miles east of Ibadan. In 1978 he was granted sabbatical leave and went to study at the Angelicum university in Rome where he was awarded a Masters degree. On his return to Nigeria John felt the need for a change and also for a more intensive ministry in the urban apostolate. Accordingly he was assigned to the Archdiocese of Lagos whose headquarters were situated in the vast, sprawling city of Lagos, then Nigeria’s capital. Here he was to minister for the remainder of his missionary life, until ill-health forced his withdrawal in 2005.

John’s ministry was associated with many parishes and apostolates. He spent several years in Festac parish (of which he was the first parish priest) a growing town in the Lagos suburbs dedicated to arts and culture. He also founded Satellite parish. He spent long periods in the parishes of Surulere, Agege-Ipaja, and Apapa. In terms of the apostolate he made his mark in many areas of ministry, but particularly as a builder of fine churches and houses, as a writer on theological and pastoral topics and above all, as a writer on Canon Law and a practitioner of the code especially in relation to the sacrament of marriage. As a builder John was at his best in finding sites in developing suburbs for the establishment of churches and schools. His attention to detail and the quality of his finished buildings were legendary. He also played a role in the establishment of the De Bresillac Centre at Obanikoro, (the SMA headquarters in Lagos), assisting Fr. Dan Murphy (the SMA superior in Lagos) in getting the Governor to sign the land transfer document (a recent requirement for land transactions).

John’s interest in Canon Law developed through frustration at the slow pace at which marriage annulments were being dealt with in the archdiocese. He applied for study leave to attend the University of Saint-Paul’s Faculty of Canon Law, in Ottawa, Canada, where in the course of two years he attained first a Baccalaureate and then a Licentiate in Canon Law. He returned to Lagos where he was appointed Judicial Vicar of the Interdiocesan Marriage Tribunal of Lagos Ecclesiastical Province, comprising the Archdiocese of Lagos and the dioceses of Abeokuta and Ijebu-Ode. He also formed the Archdiocesan Marriage Advisory Service (PMAC). For the remaining years of his life, residing for a short period in St. Ferdinand’s parish, Ipaja, and then at the Sacred Heart Church, Apapa (where he was priest-in-charge and then parish priest) he was to devote much time to issues of marriage and Canon Law in general. A frequent contributor to the Nigerian Catholic Herald and other Nigerian Catholic newspapers, he wrote several books and pamphlets. Among the more important titles in his prolific output are: Dictionary of Canon Law; Marriage in Scripture; The Sacrament of Reconciliation; The Sacrament of Baptism; How to Make a Good Confession; Marriage and Nullity of Marriage; Catholic Marriage; The Parish; The Season of Lent; How to Process a Marriage Annulment in the Catholic Church; A Short Dictionary of Canon Law; Catholic Marriage; The Theology and Canon Law of Marriage; Chancery Procedures for Marriage; Marriage Preparatory Course for Christian Couples; Are you really prepared for married life?; Marriage Sermons; The Holy Spirit – Reflections for Committed Christians; The Meaning of the Eucharist; The Rosary of the Virgin Mary (short meditations); The Consequences of Separation / Divorce and / or remarriage; A Short History of Holy Family Parish, Festac; A Short History of Sacred Heart Parish, Apapa; The Teaching of the Catholic Church on Death, The Judgement, Purgatory, Heaven and Hell; Christians and Evil Spirits; A Canonical and Pastoral commentary on the Laws of the Catholic Church on Marriage (Canons 1055- 1165).

During his time in Lagos John was responsible for introducing the Redemptorist Congregation to Nigeria. Coming from Limerick city, in his youth he had been a member of the Redemptorist confraternity there. The first seeds were sown in May 1985 when John went to Scotland in search of a religious congregation to come to Lagos. He visited the Redemptorist community in Perth where he learned that during their recent Assembly the congregation had discussed the possibility of opening a few houses in Africa. John talked to the superior, Fr. Jim McManus, who advised him to write to the Superior General, Fr. Juan Lasso, and lay his proposals on the table. The outcome was that Fr. Lasso and his advisers began to look for a Redemptorist Province that would find personnel for the establishment of a new mission in Africa. In September 1987 the first four American Redemptorists came to work in the Archdiocese of Lagos. They were met by John who brought them through the hectic Lagos traffic to take up residence in the nearby Satellite parish where they soon took charge. Appreciation for his support in this venture was expressed in 1997 when he was made a Redemptorist Oblate – an honorary member of the congregation.

John was a man of great energy, physical and intellectual. He had strong views on many matters affecting the Society and the confreres in Africa and never hesitated to express these in letters and reports to his superiors. He also had a love of reading and kept up to date with many subjects, not least theology and his beloved Canon law. Not gregarious by nature he enjoyed his own company and led a highly disciplined life.

In August 2006 John returned to Ireland for leave and medical assessment. It was found that he was seriously ill and he entered St. James Hospital for treatment. His condition gradually worsened and it was clear that he would not recover. He died on 19th November 2006. His funeral Mass took place in St. Joseph’s Church, Wilton, Cork, on 21st November 2006.

He is buried in Wilton cemetery.



A poem celebrating the life and work of Fr. John Burke SMA

Just as he arrived into the world from the mother’s womb
He would certainly depart this sinful world into earth’s tomb
Growing up with other colleagues in his chosen vocation
Abandoning other invitations and call of a job profession

Having realized his dream of Priestly ordination
He sets out in actuality to a land on mission
Yet to undergo the rigours of a very long journey
A taste of life that sweetens no more than the bee’s honey

A man of discipline garnished with a strong Pastoral zeal
His principles have led him right to be faithful and real
He has gone, but has left us with many books published
A man of prayer and firm character that is well polished.

The parish community was set to begin a novena for his recovery
Only a day before that, did God make his discovery
He was agile, dynamic and graciously full of zest
All our petitions and prayers to be for his peaceful rest

Exactly one month to his fortieth Priestly anniversary
Death came knocking as a break to life’s adversary
Just as the Church prepares for the end a liturgical season
He has breathed his last and none to provide the reason

At last the big pot of corn has toppled from this world’s strife
So let mother hen and her chicks ask why much trouble in our life
Life’s but a walking shadow that makes the player to lie
A lit candle that lasts only but a moment and then to die

Rev. Fr. John Burke; An authentic Blessing for us all
God is now Blessing you, for the people you Blessed
In His Blessed heavenly abode forever and ever
Adieu! Till we meet to part no more – sleep on and on!
(Rev. Fr. Marcel Amadi, Secretary to the Cardinal, Archbishop of Lagos).