For nearly twenty years, Father John Burke was a vibrant and magnetic force in the Portage Elora community, volunteering his time to help the youth in rehabilitation treatment. Known affectionately at the centre as FJ, Father John provided guidance and reassurance to residents and staff members alike, seeking out what was remarkable about each of the youth to help them to see the beauty and strength within themselves.
Father John passed away at 83 years of age on December 16, 2013 after a short struggle with cancer. Portage Elora residents and staff members grieved at the passing of this inspirational man who had profoundly touched so many lives.
He would visit Portage Elora nearly every day for morning meeting, and then again in the afternoon for the free time period, where he would play checkers and discuss current issues and spirituality with the residents. He was also a Spiritual Advisor to Portage staff members, who appreciated how kind, compassionate, and open-minded he was.
His dream for the youth at Portage was that each person go on to lead a new life full of courage and hope, and that they develop their self-esteem and a vision for their future. “You may not be able to change the past,” he would say, “but you can change the future.”
He encouraged them to embrace the Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can change
and the wisdom to know the difference.
In November 2012, Father John was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for his volunteer work with youth and staff at Portage Ontario. In his quiet, modest way, Father John didn’t tell anyone about the award until three months after receiving it.
Several residents wrote a few words about Father John to commemorate his passing, and to express how much he will be missed at Portage Elora:
There’s a lot I never got to say to you. First of all I wanted to say thank you for all you’ve done for us at Portage. We all miss you here. Things honestly aren’t the same without you here. You made a huge sacrifice for us and I personally will never forget you. I miss you already. You were the most beautiful and loving man I’ve ever met. Thank you for everything. You will be sorely missed. RIP Father John.
You have really influenced my life in numerous aspects. You have completely changed my outlook on my current and upcoming battles. I can’t thank you enough for everything you have done for not only me but also Portage. Truly an amazing-hearted man that I will never forget. Thanks for my experience at St John’s Church volunteering as an acolyte, as I truly got to know you better. I’m going to miss your big smile and “props” at every morning meeting. Thank you for helping me find SERENITY within myself. Rest in Paradise. I love you.
Father John influenced my life greatly. He helped me to change and help other people instead of expecting everything to be given to me. He helped me realise that in order to get you need to give. And he was very kind to everyone, regardless of what they have done in their past. He was the kindest man I have ever met in my life. He helped people and didn’t expect anything back in return. Rest in Peace, Father John.
You gave us all hope.
You always gave your best.
You always gave a fist-bump to everyone you met.
You always had a smile
Even if you’re down.
When there was a bad mood
You’d always bring it round.
You will be dearly missed,
There’s no doubt about that.
Having you and your warm embrace
Will always stay in town.
We have you in our hearts,
Thoughts, spirits and praise;
Sitting at the hand of God
To smile and laugh every day.