Bequest Just One Way Virginia Couple Helps Support Glenmary

Posted: 10/11/2012

Joan and Bob BurkeJoan and Bob Burke of Williams­burg, Va., have been Glenmary supporters for many years. But their perspective is different from many: Joan's eldest brother, Father Pat Breheny, was a dedicated Glenmary priest who died in 1984 at age 54.

"Over the years, we've gotten to know and admire many Glenmarians and staff members," says Joan.

"They welcomed us while Father Patrick was alive—but they've also made us feel like part of the Glenmary family since his death. It has meant so much. And we know what great work they do because we've seen them in action."

In the mid-1980s, Bob says, he and Joan were feeling very grateful for their marriage and six children, and they wanted to find a way to thank God for his blessings. "It was apparent to us that supporting Glenmary's work was the best answer."

Since then, they've helped Glenmary in many ways: by making donations, remembering Glenmary in their will and their prayers, hosting a Glenmary gathering, and sharing information about Glenmary with others.

Joan was a little girl in 1949 when Pat told his parents and siblings he wanted to become a Glenmary missionary priest.

The 20-year-old Glendale, N.Y., native entered Glenmary the next year, but he never lost touch with his close-knit family. After his ordination, his mother and father visited him during his assignments.

"Then one summer in the 1970s," Bob says, "when our own kids were old enough, we took them on a car trip to Father Pat's mission in Winfield, Ala. It was the adventure of their lives."

From then on, the Burke family visited Father Pat a number of times. "We all gained a new outlook by seeing how he lived and served others as well as by helping him," says Joan.

"His faith was strong, he was always joyful, and he gave a lot of himself. I learned that in the midst of poverty, joy can be created by how you treat and love one another."

Bob points out that Father Pat had a major, ongoing influence on the couple's children. "They still quote him and remember calling him for advice when they had to make hard decisions."

After nearly 27 years of ministry, Father Pat was diagnosed with cancer in 1983 and passed away in 1984. "His faith was unshakable," Joan says. "Glenmary took wonderful care of him, and he was an example for others till the end of his life. His fellow missioners have never stopped caring, keeping in touch, visiting and being part of our lives."

The couple are unwavering fans of Glenmary's ministry. "Their work is real and worthwhile," she says. "They're humble, genuine and trustworthy."

Bob adds that "Glenmary makes a point of using donations to directly help the people they serve without wasting these gifts on other things. They're much better at accomplishing this goal than any other charity we know."

For all these reasons, the Burkes have also chosen to make Glenmary the primary charitable organization remembered in their will. "This bequest," Bob says, "is our best chance to help Glenmary after we're gone."

In addition to prayers and financial assistance, the couple say they "always try to spread the word about Glenmary and encourage others to support them."

That's why the pair organized a Mass and reception for donors and others in 2010. And it's why, whenever Glenmarians visit, the Burkes try to introduce them to other people.

Joan and Bob, now grandparents of six, plan to keep helping Glenmary in whatever ways they can in the future.

In the short term, they plan to visit missions in Windsor, N.C., and Claxton, Ga., to deliver books and knitted baby clothes and blankets for local residents. The items were donated by fellow St. Bede (Williamsburg) parishioners.

"I wish we could do more," Joan says. "We're continuing to look for new ways."

This article appears in the Winter 2012 Planning Ahead newsletter.