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Darjeeling bids farewell to the last of Canadian missionaries

Darjeeling bids farewell to the last of Canadian missionaries

Darjeeling: Darjeeling bid a tearful farewell to the last of the Canadian missionaries in this region. Ninety-four-year-old Fr William J. Bourke, an educationist and a scholar,was an institution in himself. His contribution towards the Nepali language has been immense. His funeral was held in Darjeeling.

Fr Bourke joined the Society of Jesus on September 7 1948. In 1940, the then Father General had asked the English speaking Jesuits of Canada to go to North Bengal to continue the work begun by Belgian Jesuits in 1888. Father Bourke jumped to the opportunity.

On October 13, 1954 left Canada for India along with Fr Vincent Curmi, Scholastics Arthur Donnelly, Leo Forestell, William German, Edward McGuire and Cristoforo Colombo and reached the portals of St Joseph's, North Point, Darjeeling on Christmas eve of 1954.

Father Bourke was interested in learning languages. In January 1955, he started studying Nepali language at St Mary's College, Kurseong. In June the same year he started teaching Nepali at St Alphonsus school, Kurseong.

In 1961, after serving in various capacities in Darjeeling and Kurseong he went to St Stanislaus College, Hazaribagh and from there to Ranchi to learn Hi do at Manresa House under the famous Jesuit Hindi scholar Father Camil Bulcke.

Armed with his knowledge of Hindi, Father Burke started teaching in St. Peter's High School, Gayaganga in the plains of Darjeeling.

In July 1980, he went to St Anthony's Parish, Keorapukur in South Calcutta to study Bengali. After learning Bengali he returned to Darjeeling and took charge as the headmaster of St Roberts's school.

In 1990, the idea of a Nepali Thesaurus, "Sahi Shabd" was conceived and started taking shape under Father Burke. In 1994 it was completed and published. Father Bourke was awarded the Madan Puraskar by the Government of Nepal for this book.

Another important translation was underway, the Nepali Bible. Father Francis Farrell who had initiated the work had passed away in December 1990 in Canada. The job was then entrusted upon Father Bourke.

He started the work and also opened the Bellarmine Institute of Language (BIL) on September 16, 1994 in Darjeeling.

BIL published and released the Bokney Bible (portable Bible in Nepali) on July 30, 1999. Father Bourke held different positions including Chancellor of the Roman Catholic Diocese, Darjeeling; Director of Canadian Jesuits International and it's funded programme in the Jesuit province of Darjeeling. In 2006, Father Bourke went down to Prabhu Jisu residence, Matigarah in the plains.

"Sometimes in September this year Father Bourke's right hand started showing signs of weakness. Medical investigations showed that he had suffered a stroke. His health started deteriorating fast. On Friday he breathed his last," stated Father KL George, Rector, St Joseph's school, Darjeeling.

Father Bourke was laid to rest in St Joseph's school on Saturday.

The funeral service was attended by people from all walks of life including students.

"Darjeeling was fortunate to have come in touch with such a great Missionary Hero," said Reverend Bishop Stephen Lepcha.

Amitava Banerjee

Amitava Banerjee

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