A memorial service was held at Rene Goupil House in Pickering on Sunday, January 19, 2020 at 2:30 pm.
Fr William J. Bourke SJ of the Jesuit Province of Darjeeling (India) passed away peacefully on November 29, 2019 in his 94th year and 71st year as a member of the Society of Jesus. His funeral Mass was held at 2 pm on November 30 at St Joseph’s school, North Point, Darjeeling, and he was buried in the Jesuit cemetery there.
Father Bourke was born and raised in Halifax, graduated from St. Mary’s University, and after one year of law school at Dalhousie University entered the Jesuits in 1948. His first Jesuit studies were spent in Guelph, Ontario and then in 1952 he pursued studies in philosophy at L’Immaculee Conception in Montreal.
Inspired by the work of fellow Canadian Jesuits in India, Father Bourke volunteered to go to Darjeeling India in 1955 where he began a long and fruitful career as a teacher, writer and administrator. After studying the Nepali language for a year, he began theological studies in 1957 and was ordained in 1959. The following year St. Joseph’s College, North Point, Darjeeling became his home, and remained his residence throughout many career changes.
In addition to his outstanding skills as an administrator, Father Bourke made a significant impact in three important areas. First, he was dedicated to secondary education, especially among the Nepali people in the hills, and the Adivasi people (one of the indigenous peoples of India) on the plains.
Secondly, Father Bourke made a significant contribution to establishing a Jesuit Province in the Darjeeling Region by promoting Jesuit vocations. Recognizing that Jesuits were lagging behind in local recruitment, and responding to the interests of younger Indian-born Jesuits, he began to promote vocations in the Darjeeling Region and from the rest of India. Father Bourke opened a Jesuit Novitiate in Kurseong until the building of a new Jesuit Novitiate in Kalimpong in the Darjeeling Region was completed. Many of the present Jesuits in Darjeeling did their Novitiate there and are now active in ministry in the Darjeeling Region.
Thirdly, Father Bourke made Christian scriptures available in Nepali. Proficient in languages, particularly Hindi, but also Nepali and Bengali, he worked on an interfaith basis rendering Christian scriptures into modern Nepali. After the death of Jesuit Father Frank Farrell, Father Bourke completed the work of translating the scriptures into modern Nepali, a work that Father Farrell had begun.
In addition, his interest in writing and in the use of language led him, together with a Nepali colleague, to create a thesaurus for the Nepali language. For this, he received an award from the Royal Family of Nepal. In recent years Father Bourke continued writing and gathering the historical record of the Canadian Jesuits in the Darjeeling Region.
Father Bourke’s skills as an administrator led to a variety of leadership appointments. He taught Adivasis in St. Peter’s Primary School in Gayagunga (1962-1973), expanded the primary school into a secondary school, and was successful in obtaining recognition and status for the school. He was appointed Principal at St. Robert’s School, Regional Superior of the Darjeeling area (1974-1980), Regional Consulter for twelve years, Province Archivist (since 1993), Director of the Bellarmine Institute of Language (since 1994), Province Coordinator for Communication (1999-2006), Revisor of Province Funds (since 2000), Liaison for the Canadian Jesuits International Funded Programs (since 2003), Vicar General of the Diocese of Darjeeling for two years, and Socius to the Provincial of the Darjeeling Province. There were few important positions in the Darjeeling Region in which he did not serve at one time or another.
He is predeceased by his parents William and Edith (Waller). He is survived by his sisters Kathleen Mackett and Sheila McGinity of Toronto, and Eileen Wood of Burlington, Vermont.
Funeral & burial photos from Darjeeling, India: