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From Sligo to Nairobi - never forgetting Sligo Rovers


The late Monsignor Cormac Burke at his computer where he loved writing his blog.

The late Monsignor Cormac Burke at his computer where he loved writing his blog.

The late Monsignor Cormac Burke at his computer where he loved writing his blog.


Monsignor Cormac Burke, who died on 22 November in Nairobi, Kenya, spent most of his life away from his native Sligo. Yet despite this, he could always tell you the score of the Sligo Rovers match late on a Saturday afternoon. He had been a keen sportsman all his life.

He was born in Sligo on 21 March 1927. His father, Patrick, was a doctor and the county tuberculosis officer. His mother, Nora, was a teacher. He was the last born of five children, three boys and two girls.

From his home in Finisklin, he attended Summerhill College and went on to study Arts and then Law at University College Dublin. He was called to the bar at the King’s Inns and lectured for a time at Trinity College Dublin.

Along the way he met Jose Ramon Madurga, a young Spanish engineer and member of Opus Dei, who came to UCD in 1947 to do a masters in engineering.

Through Jose Ramon he got to know about Opus Dei and joined in January 1948, the first Irish member. And through him his two sisters Honoria (Teddy) and Maire (RIP) became interested and they too joined, becoming the first Irish women members.

Cormac went to Rome to study at the Lateran University, where he gained a doctorate in canon law. He lived with St Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, and with his successor, Blessed Alvaro del Portillo. He was ordained in 1955, becoming the first Irish priest of Opus Dei, and celebrated his first Mass in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Sligo.

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Not long afterwards he moved to the United States to become the head of Opus Dei there at the young age of 28. In 1960 he took up the same position in Britain, where he was very involved in the setting up of the Netherhall, a residence for university students from the Commonwealth, which was opened by the Queen Mother in 1966.

In the late 1960s he moved to Spain as chaplain at Viaro, a boys’ school in Barcelona, and then in 1976 moved to Kenya to become chaplain at Strathmore School in Nairobi.

His appointment by Pope John Paul II in 1986 as a judge of the Roman Rota, the High Court of the Church, brought him back to Italy where he remained until 1999 and also taught canon law at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.

A prolific writer of books and articles, he was awarded the 1994 Linacre Award for his writings in the field of marriage and sexual morality.

On retirement from the Roman Rota, he returned to Nairobi where he lectured at Strathmore University and was a chaplain at Strathmore School, until loss of hearing led to the curtailment of these activities.

He has been described as one of the world’s most influential English-speaking canon lawyers, and his blog was one of the most frequented canon law sites on the internet.

He looked forward to receiving holy communion each day when he could no longer say Mass, and valued the sacrament of confession which he received weekly up to his death.

In his final months he sang “Keep right on to the end of the road” at a birthday celebration. He was a cheerful fighter all the way.

He was buried on 30 November in Nairobi after funeral Mass in the Cathedral celebrated by the Apostolic Nuncio to Kenya.

Words by Fr Conor Donnelly, Nairobi, Kenya