Archbishop emeritus Austin-Emile Burke

Archbishop Burke turned aside a hockey career for the priesthood

By 
  • August 16, 2011

Archbishop emeritus Austin-Emile Burke passed up a promising career pursuing the Canadian dream in the National Hockey League to take a shot at another goal: to become a priest.

Archbishop Burke died peacefully on Aug. 12 at Evans Hall, Parkstone Enhanced Care. He was 89.

In his 61 years of priesthood, including 23 years as bishop of Yarmouth, where he was born, Archbishop Burke far exceeded his goals, says Halifax Archbishop Anthony Mancini.

Archbishop Burke's pastoral approach endeared him to parishioners during his years in Yarmouth, Mancini said.

“He was one of their own, very much appreciated by the people there,” said Mancini. “He was like a native son,” referring not only to Archbishop Burke's pastoral ministry but also his Acadian heritage.

“He had a pastoral and kind approach to people.”

Archbishop Burke had a shot at a hockey career, having tended goal for St. Anne College in Church Point, N.S., and was likely to have been drafted by the Montreal Canadiens, Mancini recalled.

“One of the things he used to do when he went about confirming (students) and when he met young people, he gave out his own hockey card,” he said.

Instead of making a living on a hockey rink, he instead went into the priesthood. In 1950, he was ordained for the archdiocese of Halifax. He became bishop of Yarmouth in 1968, and Pope John Paul II appointed him archbishop of Halifax on July 8, 1991, a post he held until he retired on Jan. 13, 1998.

During his final years, Archbishop Burke lived at Parkstone Enhanced Care and was coping with Alzheimer's.

Archbishop Burke was a founding member of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family. As archbishop of Halifax, he hosted the annual meeting of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1996. During this meeting, the bishops issued an important statement on poverty entitled, The Struggle Against Poverty: A Sign of Hope for Our World.

Archbishop Burke's funeral was to be held Aug. 16 at St. Mary's Cathedral Basilica in Halifax.

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