Thomas Burke is the son of William Burke and Margaret Dvorsky Burke of Pittsburgh. He received a bachelor of science degree in communications from Clarion University of Pennsylvania and a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy from Duquesne University. He is a 1988 graduate of Carrick High School. He earned a master of divinity degree from Saint Vincent Seminary in 2000. He is now a priest in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
By Thomas Burke
Whenever a family experience’s tough times, the best way to get through the situation is to come together, pray, and be there for one another.
Recently at St. Alphonsus in Wexford we experienced a great loss in our parish family. Third grade student Virginia Clark passed away in her home with her parents Dave and Nancy at her side, after a seven-year battle with cancer. Virginia was a cute little girl who always had a positive outlook on life even though she was ill. She always laughed and made the most out of each day. From the very first day Virginia entered St. Alphonsus School her classmates and teachers treated her with love and compassion. She was active in the Girl Scouts and Cheerleading and loved to do artwork.
The morning that I heard that Virginia passed, my pastor Fr. Peter Murphy and I immediately went into the school to be with the teachers and the students. I entered Virginia’s homeroom class, Room 207, just before teacher Ann Kushner made the announcement. It was a very emotional moment to stand beside Mrs. Kushner as she broke the news to the class. The children’s faces were in awe. Some children cried, some just sat there looking at the crucifix on the wall. We all knew Virginia’s condition was worsening each day, each week, and that it was just a matter of time.
Principal Sister Mariella Bradley, a Sister of Mercy, announced on the intercom about Virginia. Every classroom was silent. Sister Mariella said that Virginia was now at peace and was an angel in heaven. Ironically the day was already scheduled as a day of Recollection since the students had just finished three days of taking the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. How providential.
After I celebrated the 9 am mass I returned to the school and spent most of day going room-to-room talking to each class. I even read a little book to each of the primary grades titled “Someone I Love Died.” After reading the story, I then answered some questions about life and death, heaven, and the Catholic faith.
Fr. Murphy asked me to be the principal celebrant for the funeral. This was a very tough situation for me. As a newly ordained priest in my first parish assignment, this was going to be my first funeral that I did for a child.
The parish came together pouring out their love and support for the Clark family. PTG President Anne Haus said to me “thank God we have Catholic schools to help these kids get through such a difficult situation and talk about their faith, God and be able to pray as a class.”
It was very emotional at the funeral. The church was packed with students, teachers, parents, and parishioners. After the funeral mass, all of the school students and teachers processed out of the church and lined up on both sides of the front driveway and stood as the funeral procession headed to Holy Savior Cemetery in Richland Township. What a great day to celebrate life, love and be there for one another as a parish family. I’m sure Virginia was there in spirit smiling, cheering us on.
In the Gospel of Mark 10:14 Jesus says, Let the children come to me, do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
Love, prayers and support were evident through this learning lesson about life. A family that prays together stays together.
(Father Burke is parochial vicar at Saint Alphonsus Parish in Wexford.)