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50 years of priestly life never dull

Golden times: Fr Leo Burke (fifth from right) with Candace Holden, Shane Thompson, Thomas Johnstone, Owen Loft, Anne McKenny, Jacob Dunne, Alice Connor, Brianna Saunders, Frances Connor, Faye Holden, and Riane Loft from St Rita’s Catholic primary school.

Golden times: Fr Leo Burke (fifth from right) with Candace Holden, Shane Thompson, Thomas Johnstone, Owen Loft, Anne McKenny, Jacob Dunne, Alice Connor, Brianna Saunders, Frances Connor, Faye Holden, and Riane Loft from St Rita’s Catholic primary school.

By Emilie Ng

LIFE would have been radically different if Fr Leo Burke had chosen to be either an architect or an electrical engineer 50 years ago.

The Victoria Point parish priest chose the priesthood over a professional career after meeting a number of “elderly priests” who were returning to his school at St Joseph’s College, Gregory Terrace.

“It was Fr John McSweeney who sadly died last year, who said how satisfying it was to work with people in the Church,” he said.

Fr Burke celebrated his Golden Jubilee along with Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate Father Lewy Keelty at a Mass at St Stephen’s Cathedral on June 25.

Joining Fr Burke and Fr Keelty at the celebration were Fr Gerard McMorrow, Fr David Pascoe, and Fr Ian Wren who celebrated 25 years as priests, while Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Fr Tom Elich, Fr Dan Ryan, and Fr John Sullivan celebrated 40 years.

Priests from across Queensland also joined to celebrate their jubilees this year.

Fr Burke is one of three children who grew up in a house in Morningside on Brisbane’s east where his parents’ lived for 50 years.

He entered the seminary in Brisbane in February 1958 and was ordained a priest in 1964.

His ordination coincided with the day the Beatles played their first concert in Brisbane.

Fr Burke remembered seeing energetic Beatles’ fans lined up on Queen Street on June 29 waiting for the legends from Liverpool to play their first show.

“There were hundreds of fans waiting for them, but we said that the fan were waiting for us,” he said.

Fr Burke was the first parish priest of Daisy Hill, arriving in 1978, and called a caravan home for the first six months.

He is the founding father, patron, and foundation board member of Daisy Hill Catholic school, John Paul College and next year will be staff chaplain.

He also spent 14 years as Catholic chaplain at the Royal Brisbane Hospital and has worked as a prison chaplain at Numinbah and Palen Creek correctional facilities.

Fr Burke survived seven months with prostate cancer in 2004 and a heart attack in 2012.

He has spent the last 12 years as parish priest in Victoria Point, which partnered with St Rita’s Catholic primary school when it opened in 1993.

Outside of Brisbane, Fr Burke has travelled to more than 33 destinations covering all continents but Antarctica, including the last three locations for World Youth Day in Sydney, Madrid, and Rio de Janeiro.

He plans to make the trip to Poland for World Youth Day 2016.

Fr Burke said he would officially be a “senior priest” entering into retirement in August, but said he would still be active in the archdiocese.

He will take on parish replacements in Beaudesert in November, Noosa in January, and Ipswich between February and April.

“The grass never grows beneath my feet,” Fr Burke said.

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