Homage to Bro. Matthew Burns
Br. Matthew's funeral took place in South Africa where he has labored for the past 14 years. A Memorial Mass was held at St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Glenside, Pennsylvania on September 20, 2007.
In loving memory of Brother Matthew Burns 30.04.1932 – 06.09.2007
(Tribute by Brother Jos at Brother Matthew’s funeral on 10 September 2007 at Christ the Redeemer Cathedral, Klerksdorp, South Africa)
Brother Matthew was a true Brother of Charity, a religious convinced of his vocation. He radiated goodness around himself. We could recognise Jesus in his life and he has gone this way for more than 50 years. He developed charity as he learned it from his Master: a love and a friendship for Jesus, his brothers, neighbours, without measure, an unconditional love for everyone, especially for those in need.
We can say that he was the ‘Ethos of the Brothers of Charity’ in person. He was such a support in fulfilling the vision and mission of St. Conrad’s. His whole life, he was involved in education for the young with a special attention for the poor, the needy. At some stage he worked for delinquent youth. He loved working for the formation of seminarians and of young brothers in Philadelphia, in the Philippines and in South Africa. It was a life of dedication to young people in different circumstances. He was very caring for the young, friendly, helpful and encouraging. He was an inspiration for them, an example as a good educator, who emphasised in education the Christian values in life. But there was more as it is written in the Bible: ‘No one has greater love for his neighbour than the one who lay down his live for him.’ He forgot himself; he sacrificed himself for the better of others. God came first and then his neighbour without any demand for himself. This is how he saw his vocation as a brother, and he wanted to see it developed within the brothers. We could see that such a commitment was at the end undermining his health. He should do less, but no one could stop him.
A good brother has gone before us to the house of the Father; we believe that the Father has taken him into his kingdom. May we continually be reminded, in our lives, the lesson he has taught us with his good example. May he rest in peace.
“Deus Caritas Est.: With these words Brother Matthew finished all his speeches.
Bro Jos Mathijssen (Regional Superior South Africa)
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Immediately following the news of Brother Matthew’s death, my mind dropped back to Brother Matthew and his experience with vehicles. Once Bro. Matt was backing our jeep down the rather narrow drive from our house on a hill in the mountains of the state of Kentucky. If you have ever been a passenger with Bro. Matt, you know he liked to talk while he drives --- and look at you at the same time! So that it happened that we were tumbling over in slow motion off the side of the hill. We landed upside down; he asked me if I was OK, we both were. After finding our way out, he scratched his head in wonderment and chuckled.
Another wheeled story involves a few of our young student volunteers from New York. They made the then 12 hour drive with Bro. Matt from Kentucky to our house in Philadelphia enroute to New York. After spending the night with the Brothers in Philadelphia, Bro. Matt took them to the train station for the last leg of their trip. Being the ever social, intense and helpful person he was, he carried their bags on the train and helped them find seats before bidding them a long good-bye, only to find that the train was rolling on to its next destination 30 minutes away with him on it…,and typically, without a penny in his pocket!
My last wheeled story (and I remember him laughing long and hard on this one): The Brothers owned an old minivan in Kentucky and Bro. Matt came to know a poor family who were trying to make their living off of a small brood of chickens. However, living up in the hills, off of dirt roads, they had no way to deliver their eggs. Not having the money to purchase the old thing, Bro. Matt struck a deal that to this day is famous in our history. One minivan for 600 dozen eggs! There are some at St. Vincent Mission in Kentucky who swear they are still collecting some of those eggs today!
This is a Brother who has been a teacher, a sports coach and guide, a helper in the formation of young Brothers, a founder of St. Vincent Mission in Kentucky, a friend with troubled youths and their families, with orphans, folks with special needs, with youths in detention, and in leadership with our Brothers communities. He gave his possessions, his attention, his affection -without counting the cost- in the USA and international lands.
But inherent in all this was that he did not do this without questioning with our Patron Vincent de Paul: “Have I loved enough”? In his letters to me he always questioned if he trusted God enough….if he was honest with himself, doing things for the right motives…allowing God’s will to be done. He asked himself if he was loving enough. These qualities of honest self-effacement and focus on God’s will are a precious legacy he leaves.
The experience of being present for and participating in the Masses and burial of Brother Matthew in South Africa was overwhelming in every sense. The deep emotions, expressions of gratitude, sentiments of loss, vibrant prayer and song--- only served to imprint indelibly on my mind and heart the great gift he continued to be, right up to his last moments in this world.
Deus Caritas Est is how Brother Matthew ended his letters and talks: GOD IS LOVE.
Brother John FitzGerald Regional Superior of the USA
10 September 2007 Klerksdorp, 11 September 2007 PAX- Polokwane, South Africa