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
Pittsburgh Catholic June 27, 2003
The everyday duties of being a priest continue to inspire and surprise me. The saying, “Expect the unexpected,” truly holds to the priesthood. I will never forget how I celebrated my second anniversary of ordination recently.
I was preparing dinner for my classmates in honor of our celebration. I was helping the rectory cook decorate the dining room and set up the table when the phone rang and it was UPMC Passavant Hospital.A parishioner had just passed away, and the family was requesting that I be present. It was only a few weeks ago, on Holy Saturday, that he approached me before the blessing of Easter baskets and asked if I could anoint him as he was going into the hospital for cancer surgery.I prayed over him and anointed him and he smiled and said “Happy Easter, Father Tom.” It was an encounter that was very fresh in my memory.
I rushed to the hospital, walked down the hall to the Intensive Care Unit and met his daughter. We walked into the room to find him “home with the lord.”
I said some prayers and stayed there until the other family members arrived. They were in a state of shock over this very unexpected death. I knew I was there with the family to bring peace and comfort and offer support. I thought to myself, “Thanks, God. Happy anniversary.”
There was something special about this day. I was in a hospital with a grieving family and then I would drive back to the rectory to celebrate our anniversary with my brother priests. I knew that God meant me to be present for the family and them to switch roles to be there with my classmates.
The evening was a time when we laughed at the fun times we had at St. Paul and St. Vincent seminaries, and talked about our various parish assignments and how much we have grown in two years. Looking back, I have sure grown through the weddings, funerals and baptisms, teaching, visiting the hospital and nursing homes and especially the surprise phone calls.
I thank God every day that He called me to be a priest.Though I’m not considered newly ordained or a rookie anymore, two years has been good to me, and many, many more. Expect the unexpected.
(Father Burke is parochial vicar at Saint Alphonsus Parish in Wexford.)