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St. Sebastian's Honors Bill Burke with Farewell Celebration

St. Sebastian's Honors Bill Burke with Farewell Celebration

On Saturday, May 18, over 700 members of our community gathered at the Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston to honor Bill and Patty Burke in recognition of their 34 years of outstanding service to St. Sebastian’s.  The gathering included students, alumni, parents, parents of alumni, grandparents, and friends, each of whom came to personally wish Bill a fond farewell. 

The evening began with a joyful and occasionally raucous cocktail reception and buffet along with music performed by “The Grift,” setting a festive tone for the gala.  The assembled crowd occupied the entire ballroom, balconies and ante rooms off the ballroom.   

Planning Committee Member, Wendy Thurmond P`25,`28, kicked off the program and welcomed Fr. Arens to begin the evening with an opening prayer.  In a fortuitous twist of fate, Fr. Arens celebrated the 50th Anniversary of his ordination as a priest on the same day as the gala and received a standing ovation for his dedicated service to the church and St. Sebastian’s. 

Music Ministry Director, Meyer Chambers P`10,`14, along with several members of the faculty then led the assembly in a rousing rendition of “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord),” a favorite hymn of Bill Burke and many of today’s Arrows. 

Throughout the program, speakers were introduced from four corners of the room by Bill & Patty’s sons and Arrows Alumni, Will Burke `95, P`23; Dan Burke `97, P’29; Matt Burke `00 and Sam Burke `04.  None was more memorable than Will Burke’s extemporaneous Shakespearean bellow from the balcony calling the room to attention.  Remarks were delivered from two Board of Trustees Presidents who served during Bill’s time as Headmaster, Jim Elcock `77 P`08 (2011 - Present) and David Gately `73 (2006 – 2011).  Both shared their experiences with Bill on the Board and their personal relationships over the years with Bill and Patty.  Head of School elect, Brendan Sullivan, was next up in the queue of speakers.  The ballroom erupted with cheers and applause as Brendan appeared on stage to recall his time with Bill from his earliest days on campus to witnessing Bill’s powerful presence in the lives of so many over the years.   

With the instantly recognizable riffs of The Standells’ “Dirty Water” filling the room, John Harrington GP `16,`21,`25, President of the Red Sox from 1987-2001, was joined by Steve Burton, Sports Director for WBZ-TV, to introduce a video message from #34 David “Big Papi” Ortiz congratulating Bill on his 34 years of service to St. Sebastian’s.  Bill and Patty were both presented with “Burke 34” Red Sox jerseys signed by Ortiz.  Special thanks to Tara Ciongoli P`25,`25,`27,`29, for arranging for the jerseys and video. Steve Burton went on to highlight the “ripple effect” of a man like Bill Burke and how his “ripple” extended far beyond the 700+ people in the ballroom.  Steve then introduced a video featuring school leaders, parents, students and alumni that highlighted how Bill has impacted not only the physical structure of St. Sebastian’s, but most importantly, how he cultivated, defined, and exemplified the St. Sebastian’s culture, “Love God. Work hard. Take good care of one another.” 

It was then time for Will, Dan, Matt, and Sam Burke to toast, and sometimes roast, their parents and thank them for their lifetime of dedication to their family and St. Sebastian’s. Bill & Patty spoke from the ballroom rostrum to share their thoughts on their time at St. Sebastian’s, thanking those who have been by their side throughout the years.  In particular, Bill praised and honored Mike Nerbonne, Assistant Headmaster and Dean of Studies.  The mention of Mr. Nerbonne’s name elicited yet another rousing and lengthy standing ovation from the ballroom. For the Burke’s, their journey was so much more than a professional endeavor.  With four alumni sons, two Arrows grandchildren, along with a 24-7-365-day approach to leadership, St. Sebastian’s has truly been a life’s work for Bill & Patty Burke. In Bill’s own words, “It’s all a gift.”  

Following their stirring and sometimes emotional goodbye, the band picked up and everyone hit the dance floor to celebrate with Bill and Patty one more time.  As the guests left the Copley, every family received a copy of Bill’s most recent book, “It’s All a Gift,” a collection of his speeches written and delivered over the past 34 years.  This is the second of Bill’s five books generously funded by Bob (Past Trustee) and Debbie Reardon P`15 as a gift to the St. Sebastian’s community. 

While we know that Mr. Burke will never be far from the St. Sebastian’s community, the night ended with many heartfelt expressions of gratitude and well wishes as his time as Headmaster comes to an end. Once in, never out.  Arrows forever! 

A sincere thanks and congratulations to the Burke Farewell Planning Committee: Paula Coskren P`00,`01,`04,`05, Kristen Maxwell P`25, Jill Purpura P`21,`22, Wendy Thurmond P`25,`28, Kelsey Kane, Event Coordinator and Rich Arms P’14, Director of Advancement, for a wonderful event! 

There is still time to submit your written or video tribute to Mr. Burke.  These tributes will be compiled and shared with Mr. Burke.

Make a tribute to Headmaster Burke ►

View Tribute Video to Headmaster Bill Burke 

View WCVB Channel 5's Video on Headmaster Bill Burke 

View Farewell Celebration Recap Video