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La Salle News

November 17, 2015

La Salle University Mourns the Passing of Former La Salle President and Art Museum Founder Brother Daniel Burke

Brother Daniel Burke, F.S.C., who served as President of La Salle University (then College) from 1969 to 1976 and founded the University’s Art Museum, died on Nov. 14, 2015 at a nursing home for Christian Brothers in Lincroft, N.J. He was 89.

Born on Oct. 25, 1926 in Pittsburgh, Br. Daniel’s lifelong love of art was fostered during his weekly visits to the Carnegie Museum when he was a young boy. He joined the Christian Brothers’ Junior Novitiate at La Salle Hall in Ammendale, Md., in 1941, and took his vows in 1944 at the age of 18. As it was customary for the Brothers to take a new name upon donning the religious habit, he took the name Br. Fidelian of Mary, which he held until the mid-1960s, when he reverted back to his birth name.

Br. Daniel graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in art history, before completing his master’s and doctorate degrees in English, all from the Catholic University of America.

His first assignment was as an English teacher at West Catholic High School in 1949, and he returned to teach at La Salle Hall in 1951 for a year before he went to De La Salle College in Washington, D.C., where he taught for five years.

In 1957, Br. Daniel joined La Salle’s English faculty and was quickly regarded as someone with a future by the other Brothers. In 1960, he was named La Salle’s first Vice President for Academic Affairs, and began shaping the University (then College) into a more rigorous academic institution.

“He took exceptional interest in the College’s academic excellence,” said longtime friend and colleague Br. Emery Mollenhauer, F.S.C., Ph.D. “By placing a great emphasis on academic rigor, he built a strong foundation by establishing many of the governing committees and handbooks that are still in place today.”

With his love of art still steadfast, Br. Daniel introduced the art history major to La Salle’s curriculum in 1963. However, students viewing artwork in slideshows wasn’t sufficient for Br. Daniel; he wanted students to have the opportunity to see quality paintings on their own campus—the same kind of artwork that kindled his own interest in art as a child. “If you think of God as being all true, all good and beautiful, then paintings are little hints of God that expand the soul,” he once said.

In 1965, following La Salle’s Honors Convocation where famed American painter Andrew Wyeth and well-known art collector Lessing J. Rosenwald received honorary degrees, Br. Daniel announced the College’s intention to build a permanent art collection—with $3,000 of seed money.

Over the years, he bought carefully, and traded up wisely, creating an art collection, once described by Philadelphia Inquirer art critic Edward Sozanski as a “little jewel.” The collection, which now belongs to La Salle University Art Museum, is housed in the lower level of Olney Hall, and consists of more than 4,000 renowned works of art—including pieces by Tintoretto, Albrecht Durer, Thomas Eakins, Pablo Picasso, Edgar Degas, and Henry Ossawa Tanner, to name a few.

A brilliant and introspective leader, who has been described as “breathtakingly levelheaded,” Br. Daniel was named La Salle’s 25th President in June 1969. His Presidency marked a time of significant growth and transformation for the College. During his six-year tenure, La Salle went fully co-educational in 1970 (after more than a century as an all-male educational institution) and increased the female faculty members from three to 25. Hayman Hall and Olney Hall, which would eventually house the Art Museum, opened in the early 1970s. La Salle’s MBA program and Weekend Campus, which allowed students to take classes exclusively on the weekend, both began under Br. Daniel’s leadership.

Although remembered for his calm and subtle presence, Br. Daniel sparked some controversy on campus in 1971 when he joined other religious leaders to participate in a Holy Week prayer and fasting vigil in Washington, D.C., to draw attention to pressing issues including citizens’ opposition to the Vietnam War, the country’s racial tensions, and rising poverty. Subsiding on only water and juice for the week, he stood outside the White House gate for hours each day, at one point chaining himself to the gate.

“If anyone had predicted that I would become involved in a public demonstration, I would have laughed and said that simply wasn’t my style. But the religious nature of this action compelled me to think about my responsibilities in a very personal way,” Br. Daniel said at the time.

He stepped down as President in December 1976 to return to teaching full-time and to grow his beloved Art Museum. A prolific poet, Br. Daniel published several books of poetry, and his poems were often featured in La Salle’s Christmas cards.

Br. Michael J. McGinniss, F.S.C., who served as La Salle’s President from 1999 to 2014, first met Br. Daniel as a La Salle student in the late 1960s and was the student speaker at Br. Daniel’s presidential inauguration in 1969. “Br. Dan inspired his students by his love of literature and beauty and by witnessing to high moral ideals in the upheavals of the 1970s. He led his colleagues by his passion for La Salle’s academic mission,” Br. Michael said. “He embodied for his fellow Christian Brothers a profound commitment to community life and our mission of providing a human and Christian education. I am grateful to have known him and to have experienced the gentle power of his inspiration.”

Br. Daniel is survived by a brother, Edmund, sister, Sister Mariann Burke, RSCJ and niece, Barbara Burke.

A viewing will be held at De La Salle Hall in Lincroft, N.J., on Tuesday, Nov. 17, from 2 to 4 p.m.

Another viewing will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 18, at the De La Salle Chapel at La Salle University from 3 to 5 p.m., followed by a Mass of Christian Burial at 5 p.m.

Burial will take place on Friday, Nov. 20, at 11:30 a.m. in the Brothers’ cemetery at La Salle Hall, 6001 Ammendale Road, Beltsville, MD 20705-1202.

In lieu of flowers, gifts made in memory of Br. Daniel may be directed to La Salle University Art Museum’s Br. Daniel Burke Endowment Fund, c/o La Salle University Advancement, 1900 W. Olney Ave, Box 809, Philadelphia, PA 19141 or online at