New York's very first deacon, Eugene Burke


On Jan. 28, 2019, the beloved Eugene Francis Burke was called home.

He was the devoted son of John Burke and Rita Steffler Burke, and leaves behind his loving wife Madeleine Munz Burke as well as children Marlene Burke Barrett, Paul E. Burke and Christopher F. Burke; and adoring grandchildren Anna and Megan Barrett, and Emma and Bella Burke.

He was a student of history, delighting in humanity and its works, and in the love of God. Over the years, as his library grew beyond shelves and tabletops, books could be found stacked and stuffed into every corner of his home, along with his handwritten notes and insightful observations.

A graduate of Seton Hall, he went on to earn a master’s degree from Manhattan College and, after retirement, a second master’s from Lehman College. He spent his working life as a successful executive in advertising and public relations, exercising his charm and gift for persuasion on behalf of clients that included Casio, Coca-Cola, and the Archdiocese of New York.

Although he already had an accomplished career, his heart was always in the theater. He often recounted that, as a young man, he trod the boards with many fine actors, including Tony Perkins. After his retirement from public relations, he returned to the stage in a well-received off-Broadway production of “The Petrified Forest,” bringing to life the cantankerous Gramp Maple.

His credits also included notable scenes in such films as “The Associate” and “Don’t Say a Word,” and he amused millions with his numerous television appearances in comedy sketches with David Letterman and Conan O’Brien.

As much delight as he took in his thespian accomplishments, he also was a man of deep faith. He was the first ordained Catholic Deacon in New York, serving the Parish of St. Gabriel’s in the Bronx for more than 45 years. He was known throughout the parish for his wisdom and good humor, and took special care to craft moving and enriching sermons.

His greatest role was that of husband, father and grandfather. He wooed the lovely Madeleine Munz, known to her friends as Mitzi, and they lived among the Manhattan glitterati in their apartment — conveniently located above the world-renowned restaurant Le Perigord, where he was known to enjoy an appetizer, or two or three.

His family grew, as families do, and they soon decamped to the idyllic pastures of Riverdale, where he and Mitzi raised three accomplished children — Marlene, Paul and Christopher.

Through his kindness and gentility, he gathered a wide circle of friends, family and admirers who will miss him terribly, but will also take comfort in the memory of a fine gentleman.

Services were held last week at St. Gabriel’s Roman Catholic Church. He is interred at St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx.