Henry Patrick Burke was born in Dunmore, Pennsylvania, USA on 30 May 1869. He was the youngest child of Patrick Burke, a mine watchman, and the former Catherine Duggan, both migrants from Co Mayo, Ireland. One of six children, his four eldest siblings had been born in Ireland, whilst he and another brother William had been born in the USA.
Raised in Dunmore, after high school Burke entered St Bonaventure’s Seminary in Allegany, New York and was ordained as a priest on 6 May 1896. His first assignment was as an assistant pastor at St Gabriel’s Church in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. He went on to hold similar posts at St Mary’s Church in Wilkes-Barre and St Rose’s Church in Carbondale; in 1910 he was appointed the pastor of St Philomena’s Church in Hawley, Pennsylvania.
Reverend Burke boarded Carpathia as a first cabin passenger; he was travelling to Europe—which included a stop in Rome—and the Holy Lands with Reverend Daniel McCarthy. Following the retrieval of survivors from the Titanic’s lifeboats, the two clergymen provided care and assistance and gave up their stateroom to some unfortunate survivors; both men made their beds on the floor of one of the saloons.
Burke remained a seasoned traveller, going for study and pilgrimage across North America, Europe and the Caribbean. In 1922 he relocated to St Mary’s Church in Avoca, Pennsylvania where he spent the next eighteen years, during which time he established a new convent in 1923 and built a new rectory in 1936.
In failing health for a number of years as a result of chronic heart failure, Reverend Henry Burke died in Avoca, Pennsylvania on 20 July 1940. He was buried in St Mary’s Cemetery in West Avoca four days later.