Ronald G. Burke named ‘Hibernian of the Year’

By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald

Since 1876, the Ancient Order of Hibernians has been in Louisiana “to support the Catholic Church and the Irish (people, country and culture),” said James “Jimmy” Kuhn, state president of the Order of Hibernians and a retired judge.

With St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, the Hibernians will celebrate a Mass in honor of St. Patrick, the apostle of Ireland, at 12:15 p.m. at St. Patrick Church, 724 Camp St., New Orleans. Later that evening, members gather for their 144th annual banquet at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside, 2 Poydras St.

Every year, the Ancient Order of Hibernians honors a Hibernian of the year. Kuhn, a former Hibernian of the Year, said the 2019 Hibernian of the year is Ronald Gerard Burke. He will be honored at the Mass at St. Patrick.

“The idea is to honor the person who contributes the most to the mission of the Hibernians,” Kuhn said.

Burke, 65, is a fifth-generation Irishman whose paternal ancestors came from County Galway in 1847 and have lived in the Irish Channel in New Orleans. He attended St. Alphonsus Elementary and Redemptorist High School.

Burke said he was thrilled to be this year’s honoree.

“I have been on the committee to select the Hibernian of the year for 20 years and wasn’t asked to be on the committee this year, so I knew something was up,” he said, jokingly. “It’s a great honor when you think of all the people who have come before me, especially all those who came over after the Great Famine in 1847 to start a new life. To follow in those footsteps is a sheer joy, and I accept this with great humility.”

Burke has been active in Irish causes in the community. He has been on committees to dedicate a Celtic cross monument honoring Irish who died in the Great Hunger and died while building the New Basin Canal; a 2014 New Orleans commemoration of the Great Hunger; and the 2016 Centennial Commemoration of the Easter Uprising at St. Mary’s Assumption Church and St. Alphonsus Cultural Center.

Burke’s college years were spent at Loyola University and the University of New Orleans before he enlisted in the Louisiana Army National Guard and earned the rank of sergeant. He followed in his grandparents’ and father’s footsteps as assessor for the Fourth Municipal District of New Orleans (includes the Irish Channel, Garden District and Central City) for 22 years through 1998.

Burke then served until 2010 as an administrative assistant to Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick. He also has been a legislative liaison for New Orleans Municipal Court Judge Paul Sens and is now a minute clerk for Judge Franz Zibilich in Orleans Parish Criminal Court, Section F.

In 1947, the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Club and parade was founded by his father, Dick Burke, Dick’s brother Paul, the St. Alphonsus parish priest, the Redemptorist High School principal and others. Ronald Burke has been vice president of the club since 1977. He was also parade grand marshal in 1978 and 1997. His two daughters have been queens.

The 2019 parade rolls on March 16 following the noon Mass at St. Mary’s Assumption Church. It returns to its original route, starting at Jackson and Magazine streets to St. Charles Avenue, turning on Louisiana Avenue, then on Magazine back up to Jackson Avenue.

Norman Ryan, a former Archbishop Rummel coach, St. Alphonsus, Redemptorist and Loyola University graduate and St. Christopher the Martyr parishioner, will serve as the parade’s honorary grand marshal. Elmore Steinert, a St. Alphonsus, Redemptorist and Loyola University graduate and Brother Martin and Archbishop Rummel coach, is The Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Club “Man of the Year” for 2019.

Burke has served as an officer of the Hibernians’ James Cardinal Gibbons Division and also is on the board of Mercy Endeavors and the Emerald Society of New Orleans and has served on the boards of St. Alphonsus School, the Krewe of Thoth, the Dryades Street YMCA, Kingsley House and the Irish Channel Corner Club.

A charitable organization

The Ancient Order of Hibernians was first formed in 1565 to preserve the Catholic religion in Ireland, which was being eliminated by the British government. In 1836, the Ancient Order of Hibernians was organized in America at St. James Church in New York City. It expanded to New Orleans in 1876.

Over the past several years, every cent from its biggest fundraiser – an annual charity auction – has been donated to charitable causes. The money has been earmarked over the years for ministries serving the poor, St. Michael School, the Presentation Sisters and their Lantern Light ministry at the Rebuild Center, scholarships to Catholic elementary students, homeless veterans, choir robes for St. Joseph Church in Ponchatoula, the Marianites of Holy Cross’ Burkina Faso Mission, the Rosaryville Retreat Center, St. Vincent de Paul and more.

In Louisiana, the Ancient Order of Hibernians has five divisions – in Acadia, West Florida, East St. Tammany, Jefferson and Orleans – with nearly 300 members, Kuhn said. All divisions have monthly meetings. There is a bi-annual state convention to discuss the organization’s efforts to raise money for charities.

Hibernian membership crosses over to the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Club. The two groups often work together on charitable community work.

The March 17 banquet at 7 p.m. is black-tie optional and will feature the Loyola University Choir, the United States Marine Corps Band and the Muggivan Irish School of Dance. Banquet tickets are $80 and are available by calling 455-2024, 952-9925 or louisianaaoh@aohla.com.

For details on the Hibernians, contact John Fitzmorris III, Ph.D., Hibernian state secretary at 952-9925.

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