Encouraged by their father, Bill, who played on the Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School baseball team and a state champion fast-pitch softball team, Al and his six brothers grew up on the diamond. His brothers played at Providence High in Jeffersonville; Al played at St. Xavier in Louisville. Oldest brother Danny was courted by the Baltimore Orioles but opted for college.
In 1968, when it was Al’s turn for college, he headed to Bellarmine, where he met another baseball fanatic, Fr. John Deatrick ’55. An outfielder for the Knights, Fr. Deatrick had returned to Bellarmine that year as chaplain and assistant baseball coach. He became head coach in 1970, a position he held through 1974.
To Fr. Deatrick, baseball was more than a game. “Some of the real ministry I did at Bellarmine was done on the baseball field,” he said. That was where players learned “so many important things: cooperation, discipline, leadership.” He saw his ministry spread as many players went on to become coaches themselves. One of them was Al Burke. After graduation, he coached baseball at St. X. In 1976, he came back to Bellarmine, where he was head baseball coach from 1977-81. His younger brother, Kevin Burke ’84, played for him as pitcher.
“I was a very shy and quiet person when I came to Bellarmine, and baseball really helped me mature and develop leadership skills,” Al Burke said. “By the time I graduated, I had grown up and learned to handle responsibility. I could not have dreamed prior to Bellarmine that I could stand in front of a classroom or be a coach. Fr. Deatrick really helped to draw that out of me.”
That wasn’t the only role Fr. Deatrick played in his life. When the chaplain/coach recruited players, Al Burke said, “one of his recruiting perks was that a free marriage came with the deal.” Fr. Deatrick married Al and Mary Jo (’74/’84) Burke in 1973 and baptized their first child, Erin, in 1974.
Erin Burke ’96 is now an academic counselor for athletes at Bellarmine. The Burkes’ older son, Paul Burke ’99, was an All-American catcher for the Knights and played for the Atlanta Braves organization for two years. (Son Chris, a University of Tennessee graduate, played for the Houston Astros.)
When Al, now a partner in Heyburn Burke & Robinson, and Mary Jo decided to establish a scholarship fund, “it seemed right to have a baseball player as the recipient,” he said. “Mary Jo suggested we ask Fr. Deatrick to join us because he is very important in the history of Bellarmine baseball and in our history.”
Once the fund reaches the endowment level of $50,000, it will provide financial assistance to a full-time student who demonstrates need, with preference given to freshmen and Bellarmine baseball players. The scholarship is renewable each year if the recipient maintains a grade-point average of 2.5 or better.
“Many of the important lessons that I learned and taught took place on the Bellarmine baseball field, and I would like for other students to be able to have that same experience,” Fr. Deatrick said.
That sentiment was echoed by Al Burke. “I know it won’t create a lot of funds in the beginning, but we intend to keep funding it, and hopefully others will see the value of contributing – the guys who played with me, and who played for Fr. Deatrick and me. Almost all of us needed financial aid to go to Bellarmine, and it made such a difference to us. I hope that this fund will eventually make a difference for a lot of kids.”
Pictured, 1969 baseball team: Al Burke, front row, fourth from left; Fr. Deatrick, top row left
To make a contribution to the scholarship fund, please contact Joan Riggert, director of planned giving and stewardship, at email@example.com or 502.272.8330.
Carla Carlton | firstname.lastname@example.org