Fr. Gervase Burke (1901-1965)


A devotee of the comic strip character, Popeye, and a recipient of an original message from Popeye’s cartoonist, E.E. Segar, Father Gervase Burke died of cancer on January 9, 1965.  He had been diagnosed in 1963 and The Kansas City Star interviewed him six months before his death.  He was at peace about his situation and told the reporter, “You’re going to die too, you know… the only difference between you and me is that I know the time.  At death man is meeting not his end but his fulfillment.  You can’t change the ending.  The real ending of the play is that the character has fulfilled himself.”

Father Gervase was born in Wheaton, Kan., came to St. Benedict’s College and made first profession July 2, 1921.  He completed college in Atchison and did theology at Sant’Anselmo.  He earned a master’s in English at the University of Toronto.  He was a popular dean of men, prefect at St. Joseph’s Hall, teacher of English, book reviewer and wit. 

During World War II Father Gervase was a chaplain in the U.S. Army, stationed in Dakar in what is now Senegal in West Africa.  He loved the troops and the warm weather and thereafter was never warm again.  He often wore his Army greatcoat to early morning prayers at the abbey and was known to use a Zippo lighter to warm his hands at prayer.  Once as chaplain he wrote a piece to “Bonjour” the West African Army Weekly saying in a very witty way that the USO shows and other entertainment were not so much obscene but were an insult to 90% of the servicemen and women who viewed them.  His excuse for not giving “A” grades was that the last time he gave one the Civil War started.