Uncle Bill

Source: J.Cafiso/CJI

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.

David Mackett is an alumnus of Brebeuf College School in Toronto and the nephew of Fr. Bourke. He, along with the rest of his family, continue to support the work of the Jesuits of North Bengal, through Canadian Jesuits International.

  • Susan Tomenson
    Posted at 09:00h, 25 April Reply

    Thank you, David, for what you shared about your uncle. I met you at Rene Goupil house the day of The Celebration of Bill’s Life. I was warmly welcomed to Darjeeling on 3 occasions by your uncle- one time with Bill’s sister Kay, on a pilgrimage led by JP. How special that was to be with Bill and Kay!
    David, I hope we meet again maybe at another Jesuit Celebration.
    Thank you. Susan Tomenson

  • Jenny Cafiso
    Posted at 13:31h, 26 April Reply

    Thank you Dave. this is a beautiful testament to a life well lived. Fr. Bill was truly a remarkable man: brilliant, committed, warm and very funny. i treasure the memories of the time spent with him during my visits in Darjeeling and his visits in Canada.

  • Barbara Hoar
    Posted at 21:21h, 27 April Reply

    Glad to know there was a Mass here in Canada at Rene Goupil house so Fr. Bill would be remembered by his Canadian Jesuit brothers.

    I’m still trying to process my memories of a very serious college student with the happy and joyfilled priest who vacationed with you in Halifax some years ago when we all spent an afternoon at the hotel lounge, and also with more recent memories of a happy, interested, vital priest who wrote me wonderful letters over the past 3 years, recalling old times in Halifax, and old friends at St. Mary’s, plus the l945 explosion, and explaining some of his work before and after his retirement. Fr. Bill seemed so vitally interested in everything – with a remarkable memory.
    He is now one of the priests I turn to when asking for prayers from Heaven.
    Sending hugs to Kay, through David and through Eileen.

  • Barbara Hoar
    Posted at 21:25h, 27 April Reply

    Please see previous comment

  • Susan Savoie
    Posted at 11:37h, 30 April Reply

    So nice of you to share your thoughts and memories, David. Sending virtual hugs to you and the rest of the Bourke clan in Toronto. Take care. Sue and Marc

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