Thomas Burke is the son of William Burke and Margaret Dvorsky Burke of Pittsburgh. He received a bachelor of science degree in communications from Clarion University of Pennsylvania and a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy from Duquesne University. He is a 1988 graduate of Carrick High School. He earned a master of divinity degree from Saint Vincent Seminary in 2000. He is now a priest in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
By Thomas Burke
The life of a priest can be very exciting. Each day brings new experiences and challenges. Recently being ordained a priest just three short months ago, I am learning that there never is a dull moment or that there is never just a “typical day.”
Recently on an early Monday morning, I was starting my day with a cup of coffee in hand reviewing the day’s news before going to morning mass when my sister Lisa called. Her voice on the other line sounded concerned. She said “Tom, Lori was rushed into Magee Womens Hospital and her life and the baby are on the line.” My heart dropped.
Lori is Lisa’s sister-in-law, and was six months pregnant. She had severe pains and was having a hard time breathing and feeling weak so her husband John took her to see her doctor. Lori’s blood count was low and her body was having a reaction and the doctors said that the baby’s life was in danger with the lack of oxygen and blood. They would have to induce labor.
My first instinct told me that I should go to the hospital as soon as I could. I had the morning mass to say then I would be able to go to Magee. I told Lisa that I would be down to the hospital as soon as I could.
After mass I drove down to Magee and met up with my brother-in-law Paul and his mom and dad Carol and Paul and Lori’s husband John. The nurse who was taking care of Lori saw me walking down the hall and directed me to the room. I walked into the room and saw Lori resting. She had delivered a baby boy minutes after my sister Lisa called and that he was doing well but still critical. They named him John Paul. He was two pounds and on a ventilator in an incubator. Lori came through the delivery rather well and was stable.
John walked me down to the intensive care unit. We walked into a room full of medical doctors and nurses attending to several babies all in critical condition. It was a sight to see. We washed our hands in the sink using soap and water and then walked over to the incubator where John Paul was in. I never saw a baby so small, about the size of my hand, the heart pounding rapidly. I did a blessing over the baby with John at my side. It was a powerful moment.
John and I then walked back to Lori’s room where I said a few prayers and gave them both a blessing. I commented on how ironic it was that just over a year ago I remember going to Allegheny General Hospital to see John’s mother Charlotte who had just passed away. One life ended and now a new one begun a whole year later.
John thanked me for being there for the family. He said, “Tom, you’re our family priest.” I said “that is what I’m here for.” A priest is there for the people in good times and sad times. To celebrate the life God has given us. Each day is a new day!
As of this writing, Lori and John are doing well. Lori came through her procedure well and has regained strength. Little John Paul is improving each day and is getting better and healthier. It will still be a while before he is up to full strength.
I learned in this lesson that every life is precious and we all should live each day to the fullest and always expect the unexpected. With family and friends, we all can pray together to help us get through life. With God, all things are possible!
(Father Burke is parochial vicar at Saint Alphonsus Parish in Wexford.)