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.
Uncle Bill had an endless curiosity about the world and its cultures, which I suspect contributed to his decision to become a missionary, and his interest in languages. He was a voracious reader, with a particular interest in historical nonfiction. I think he felt that one needed to know the past, in order to find the path forward.
He approached life with boundless energy, joy, and humour. One of his favourite mantras was: “Expect the unexpected.” When he had to deal with the “unexpected,” he did so with patience, grace and humour.
He lived to serve others and to make the world a better place. Despite his many accomplishments, he never “tooted his own horn.” He had a tremendous impact on the lives he touched, whether it was through teaching, mentorship, his translation work, or simply providing words of comfort. I think that’s why people seemed to be drawn to him.
When I visited him in India in 2010, we encountered many people on our travels, who came up to him to shake his hand or share a story. Whether they were former students or people he befriended in his day to day life, he seemed to have made a difference – he’d made their lives better.
A Memorial Mass and Celebration for Uncle Bill took place at Rene Goupil House, Pickering on January 19th, 2020. It was an opportunity for friends and family to celebrate his life and legacy. I was honoured to share the First Reading: Romans 10: 9-16, which was also the First Reading at his funeral Mass held in Darjeeling.
It very much spoke to his calling to be a Jesuit and a missionary, especially the line “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Although he is no longer with us in person, he continues to live on; in the memories and hearts of those he touched and served throughout his remarkable life.