BUTTE - Although he is known for his brogue and extensive knowledge of local genealogy from his birthplace Ireland, Father Gregory Burke’s heart resided in the Mining City.
“Butte is his home and was his life,” said his great-grandniece Orla Canniffe. “It’s wonderful that he had close contact with everyone in Ireland but he had to come back to Butte.”
Father Burke died Sunday in Butte. A funeral was held Friday.
Burke was a keen listener who offered sage advice and didn’t mince words.
“He was very charming. He stopped and spoke with everyone,” she said. “He was a great man to talk to.”
Father Thomas Haffey of St. Ann’s Church concurred. His cohort was much beloved but also was a straight shooter.
Father Burke would not hesitate to remind someone to dress properly in church or go put on a tie.
“It was just his idea of what was respectful,” Haffey said.
Father Burke served at St. Ann’s until last year.
Once the 88-year-old priest’s health took a swift downturn, Canniffe spoke with him three times a day from her Dublin home. Canniffe arrived in Butte late Monday night to return Burke’s ashes to be buried in the family plot in County Cork.
“I made a promise to Greg,” she said. “He said I want you to represent the family.”
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Father Haffey called the priest’s passing “a big loss.
“But, he also has a lot of faith that he would be part of the resurrection. He didn’t doubt his faith.”
During his 60-year ministry, Burke served not only in Butte but also Helena, Browning, Three Forks, Deer Lodge and Bozeman. When he visited his homeland, he would say Mass there as well.
Local residents are likely familiar with Father Burke through his many years spent as chaplain at St. James Healthcare. He retired December 2013.
“He slowed down yet was still working into his 80s,” Haffey said. “That was an important part of his journey. If it was up to him, he never would have quit working there.”
The role as chaplain was a splendid fit not only because of Father Burke’s commitment to helping those in need but also the joy he took in the word on the street.
“He loved knowing what was going on in town,” Haffey said.
Father Burke was a veritable database of familial information from County Cork to Butte.
“He knew so many people and remembered all of the connections. That was part of his genius was remembering,” Haffey said.
Butte-Silver Bow Undersheriff George Skuletich was especially impressed with Father Burke’s recollection.
“Every time I saw him, he’d bring up my whole family and knew everyone’s names,” he said. “He’d end up telling you about someone in your family that you didn’t even know you were related to.”