Brother Francis Majella Burke: A wonderful, humble man and great friend of Dungannon

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I wasn’t at all aware that Brother Francis Majella Burke was ill, so the passing last Monday of a wonderful, humble man and great friend of our town for best part of five decades was a dreadful shock.

The last of the Presentation Brothers to grace the streets of my hometown, the mild-mannered and soft-spoken county Clare man always struck me as being quite shy and he never tried to force his opinions on any topic.

But I didn’t really know him as Brother Andrew Hickey knew, the Province Leader of Presentation Brothers generously agreeing to provide me with his homily from the Requiem Mass on Thursday.

Here’s the edited version:

“I accompanied Brother Majella when he met his consultant in St Luke’s Hospital on 4th April, when he faced the truth about his illness after many months of treatment. The doctor told him there would be no further treatment, a stark message delivered compassionately. After a period of silence the doctor said: ‘You have faith.’ Brother Majella answered: ‘It is what keeps me going.’

When Brother Majella said ‘it’s what keeps me going’, I am sure he was talking about his life in general, and not just the immense challenge facing him. Faith in God and the risen Christ was at the centre of Frank Burke’s life.

It drew him to the Brothers, to care for boys orphaned in Orpington in England; to teach for thirty years in St Patrick’s PS, Dungannon; to serve in parish of St Joseph in Glasthule for last eleven years.

He learned this attitude to life in his home in Ballinruane, Whitegate, Co Clare, on edge of Lough Derg. He encountered God in his home and in the natural beauty that was all about him.

Frank’s father, James, died when the family was young. Their mother, Anna, lived for over 100 years, an amazing woman. Everyone sympathises with his brothers Tom, Joe and Paul (aka Presentation Brother Eugene), sister Helen and all his family.

Brother Majella’s actions did the talking. A deeply spiritual man, he loved being a Presentation Brother, a wonderful companion, for many people, on the journey of life.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.”

Brother Majella arrived in Dungannon in August, 1969 as replacement for Brother Raymond RIP and immediately slotted into the community. Here’s a concise resume of some of the roles he fulfilled with great diligence and passionate expertise.

One of life’s true gentlemen, he was on pioneer, parish literature and feis committees.

He brought computer skills to the school, helped decorate St.Patrick’s Church for Christmas, Easter, Confirmation and First Holy Communion, and ran the bingo at the Scout Hall for years, as well as being a great supporter of snooker league and especially in St.Patrick’s Hall.

Brother Majella studied in the Open University and obtained a degree, painting was one of his passions, while he loves photography and especially making videos, copies given freely to the hundreds to grateful parishioners. He loved gardening and helped many not so green-fingered.

He hosted bus trips for children to the likes of Edinburgh, Killarney, Lisdoonvarna and Knock. Assisted by Jimmy Moore, he conducted classes for special needs children, as well as being Eucharistic Minister for visits to various homes and hospitals.

He brought Dungannon folk to Rome for the beatification of Edmund Rice, founder of Presentation Brothers, also organising the celebrations of the organisation’s centenary in the town in 2002.

In January a group of parishioners, including some fellow teachers, deservedly treated their good friend to an appreciation night in the Gables and presented him with a beautiful watch, his last trip to the town. May Majella Rest in Peace.