Rev John Joseph Burke, CSP
Born in New York City on June 6, 1875, John Joseph Burke was the son of a blacksmith. He attended St. Francis Xavier College and entered the Paulist Society in the 1890’s. He made his profession on May 14, 1899, and was ordained a priest on June 9, 1899.
He and his brother Thomas, who was ordained in 1896, dominated Paulist life for nearly 40 years. After three years at St. Paul the Apostle parish on west 59th Street in New York, he was tapped as the new editor of “The Catholic World.” He changed its format from popular to scholarly and made it one of the premier Catholic journals in the U.S. He created the Catholic Press Association and served as a consultor to Paulist Superiors General George Searle and John Hughes.
When the U.S. entered World War I he coordinated the Church’s activities by helping organize the National Catholic War Council (NCWC) and the Chaplains’ Aid Society. At the NCWC he worked with the U.S. government to coordinate the assignment of military chaplains and, for his efforts, was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in 1919.
After the war, Fr Burke helped found the National Council School of Social Services at Catholic University, a graduate school for social workers. In 1922 he stepped down as editor of “The Catholic World” and became General Secretary of the War Council’s successor, the National Catholic Welfare Council. This forerunner of today’s United States Conference of Catholic Bishops served as the “public face” of American Catholicism and spoke out on a number of important issues of the day.
In the 1920’s he served as an “unofficial” diplomat for the Vatican, making clandestine trips to Mexico to seek better church-state relations in that country. In recognition of this service he was named a monsignor in September, 1936, the only Paulist to ever hold that distinction. One month later he suffered a severe heart attack and died.
The official Paulist necrology states that he was “arguably the most influential Paulist next to Father Hecker…” When he died he was 61 years old and had been a Paulist priest for 37 years.
For a biography of Fr. Burke, see “Never Look Back: The Career and Concerns of John J. Burke,” by John B. Sheerin. Paulist Press, 1975.