The late Msgr Burke (left) and Mr Borruso (right). PHOTO: Strathmore School
The story of Strathmore, like all rich stories, is many stories rolled up in one. Many of these stories trace the lives of the men who left their distant home countries, under the inspiration of St Josemaría Escrivá, to start and sustain the whole venture. Some of them came at the very start of the project, while others joined it somewhere along the way.
Many of them are still alive, and continue to add brilliant chapters to their own stories and those of the people whose lives they touch. A few, however, have transitioned to the next life. In this article, we memorialise two of the most recently deceased: Monsignor Cormac Burke and Silvano Borruso. These two men lived in the same house in the residential section of Strathmore School for decades, and passed away within about a month of each other.
Msgr Cormac Burke (1927-2021)
Monsignor Cormac Burke died on the night of 22nd November 2021. Born in Ireland on 21st March, 1927, the eldest son of the late Nora Burke, a teacher, and the late Patrick Burke, a doctor, he joined Opus Dei in 1948, the first person from his country to do so. In the years after, he played an instrumental role in promoting growth of Opus Dei in Ireland. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1955.
Following his ordination, he poured his life into extending the apostolate of Opus Dei in many countries, primarily the United States, the United Kingdom, and Kenya. Here in Kenya, he spent the last thirty years of his life, which were interrupted only by the ten years during which he served as a judge on the Roman Rota, the Catholic Church’s equivalent to a supreme court.
In the course of his relentless apostolic work and service to the Church, he shared distilled snippets of his wisdom in a body of well-written and beloved books like Covenanted Happiness, Man and Values, The Theology of Marriage, The Mass Explained, and Authority and Freedom in the Church. These are surrounded by a large collection of articles and essays published in multiple platforms.
Msgr Burke lived a full life, replete with achievement at the very highest levels of ecclesiastical life. Alongside his numerous spectacular accolades stand the equally important quiet impact he had in the lives of many ordinary people. In the waning years of his life, he was often available for the students of Strathmore School, patiently counseling them and receiving their confessions.
The vast scale of his contributions to the story of Strathmore renders any attempt to list all of them futile. In the aftermath of his death, tributes flowed in from around the world, attesting the global nature of his influence. Many masses were celebrated for the repose of his soul, in Kenya, his native Ireland, and in many other countries.
His mortal remains rest at Lang’ata Cemetery, in the south of Nairobi, where they were interred after a requiem Mass celebrated by the Apostolic Nuncio to Kenya and South Sudan, Archbishop Hubertus Matheus Maria van Megen.
Silvano Borruso (1935-2022)
Silvano Borruso (1935-2022), who landed on Kenyan shores (literally, having travelled by ship) in 1960, died peacefully in his room, on January 1st, 2022, barely two hours into the new year. He died at the heart of the institution which he had served for nearly 62 years.
If the accomplished life of Msgr Burke followed a traceable, though no less unique, course, Mr Borruso’s was quite emphatically the opposite. His path through life was definitely unique, though in the most delightful and beautiful of ways. Mr Borruso was what many would call a polymath, which would be a rare distinction even in less complicated segments of history.
During his lengthy service at Strathmore, he got to teach practically all of the subjects on offer, at all levels, to the highest levels of attainment. Though he never received any specialised training as an instructor, literally all of the students who ever passed through his hands can attest to his mastery of the subjects he taught and naturally bring him up as the best teacher they ever had.
In an instant messaging group formed following his death, his students, many of whom are now quite elderly, were unrestrained in the expression of their appreciation and esteem for their former teacher. The whole conversation reads like a litany of praise, a gushing torrent of love from youth and elder alike, united in gratitude to the towering figure of a man who generously dispensed his talents.
After graduating from university with a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Science, Mr Borruso elected to forego further studies. Yet he went ahead to become one of the more original philosophical scholars of his generation, producing masterfully argued tomes on scholastic philosophy and logic, along with piercing critiques of the confusion of modern systems of thought.
Mr Borruso was a polyglot, fluent in his native Italian, English, Spanish and classical Latin and Greek. Thanks to this erudition, his services often came in handy in the translation of texts where faithfulness to the original was indispensable. His English translation of The Confessions of St Augustine, published by Pauline’s Publications, stands out for its clarity and ease, which no small compliment, considering the work’s stature. He also translated Augustines De Ordine.
Silvano Borruso’s mortal remains now rest at Lang’ata Cemetery, next to those of Msgr Burke, and 5000 kilometres away from Sicily, where he was born in 1935, to the late Cesare Borruso and the late Magdalena Liotta.
Memorialising the life of any man, even the briefest and most mundane, has never been an easy task. But it approaches impossibility if the life being memorialised has been lived as fully as those of Msgr Burke and Mr Borruso. Any attempt, the present one included, is bound to be deficient, hardly able to even approach the profundity and fulness of such lives.
However, such attempts must be made nevertheless, for it’s the least that can be done. May the souls of these gallant men rest in peace; may those whose lives they touched be worthy of their memory; and may the good work they began echo through eternity.