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Michael Walter Burke-Gaffney


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Michael Walter Burke-Gaffney was born in Dublin, Ireland, December 17, 1896 to Thomas and Joan (nee O'Donnell) Burke-Gaffney. He studied at Belvedere College and University College, Dublin, graduating from Dublin National University with a Bachelor's of Engineering in 1917. He then worked as an engineer for the War Office in London, England from 1917-1918. After studying theology in Ireland and France, he served in the Air Ministry from 1918-1920.

In 1920, Burke-Gaffney came to Canada and in that same year, worked as a bridge engineer in Manitoba and joined the Society of Jesus. He was naturalized in 1925, and was ordained a priest in 1930. Continuing his studies at Georgetown University in Washington, he earned a Master's Degree in 1933, and then a Doctorate of Astronomy in 1935. After finishing his formal education, he became a lecturer of astronomy at Regis College in Toronto, Ontario from 1935 to 1939. Father Burke-Gaffney also taught in Regina and in Winnipeg before becoming a full-time faculty member of the Jesuit-run Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He was the Dean of Engineering from 1940-1948, as well as the Dean of Science for four years. He was a professor of Applied Science from 1948-1955, then taught Astronomy until 1965 when he became professor emeritus and special lecturer.

In the course of his scientific career, Father Burke-Gaffney wrote numerous journal articles and several books including Kepler and the Jesuits (1944), Daniel Seghers (1961), and Celestial Mechanics in the Sixteenth Century. Between lecturing and writing, Father Burke-Gaffney was a member of many clubs and associations, including: the Canadian Committee of the International Astronomical Union; Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute; Professional Engineers of Nova Scotia, to which he was awarded an honorary lifetime membership to in 1967; Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, which he won a Service Medal from in 1964; International Academy of the History of Science, where he served as a corresponding member in 1950 and was elected honorary president in 1951; Father Burke-Gaffney also served as a consultant to Commission 41of the International Astronomical Union in 1964. Other associations he was part of are: American Astronomical Society, Canadian Mathematical Congress, History of Science Society, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, and American Astronomical Society.

Privately, Father Burke-Gaffney conducted extensive research on many subjects, and his personal notes can be found in the Saint Mary's University Archives. He was interested in celestial mechanics and used his astronomical and engineering expertise in this area to calculate and track the orbits of artificial satellites such as Sputnik I and II and Echo I. Other topics he was interested in include photographing astronomical phenomena such as eclipses of the sun and moon; investigating UFO's, superstition, demonology, meteors, and comets as well as writing poetry and collecting flowers. The life of this fascinating man came to an end on Sunday, January 14, 1979 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His archival fonds was housed in the Library's basement shortly after Burke-Gaffney's death, until the early 1990s when the material was moved to the Archives.


The Jesuits and Saint Mary's University

The members of the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits, have a long history of being involved in higher education. Formed by St. Ignatius Loyola, 4the society became a religious order within the Catholic Church in 1540. By the time of Loyola's death in 1556 there were already thirty-three secondary or middle schools run by the order in Europe.

The growth of the society across the world continued. At the time of the surpression of the Jesuits by Clement XIV in 1773, there were some 845 educational institutions run by the order. Some were seminaries for Jesuits only, but more than 600 were secondary schools or colleges. In many European countries the Jesuits had had a virtual monopoly on secondary education. After the order was restored in 1814 the Jesuits started their educational work again.

From 1914 to 1939 the Irish Christian Brothers had operated Saint Mary's College. When their contract ran out Archbishop J. T. McNally was faced with a problem as to who would run the school. He petitioned Rome and was given control of the college. With a vacancy to fill the Archbishop wrote and asked the Jesuit Brothers of Upper Canada to come and take over the administration and teaching at Saint Mary's College. By this time the order was running more than 800 educational institutions across the world.

The Jesuits took over the college in the fall of 1940. The biggest problem the Jesuits were faced with were issues dealing with the College's finances, as well as the lack of space in the original building located on Windsor Street. In 1947 the Jesuits, along with the Archdiocese of Halifax, sought another location for a new college campus. In 1949 construction started on the new building which was located on the corner of Robie and Inglis streets in Halifax's South End. Costing about 5 million dollars the McNally Building (named after Archbishop McNally) opened in 1951. The new building housed nearly 1000 college and high school students at this time. It was granted official university status in 1952.

While in charge of Saint Mary's University the Jesuits helped advance the school throughout the years. Starting as soon as the new campus opened in 1951 the enrollment of students started to rise progressively up until the present. The 1950's also saw the introduction of Adult Education, which would eventually evolve into the present Continuing Education program. The 1950's also saw the creation of a Diploma in Journalism, which was shared with the other universities in Halifax. The Department of Education was also introduced at this time. In the late 1950's, women started appearing in the hallways of Saint Mary's, although it wasn't until 1968 when co-education took charge in the school.

In addition to the admittance of women, the 1960's witnessed the transformation of Saint Mary's into a non-secular university. The Jesuits left in 1970, when the Saint Mary's Act caused the institution to become a self-governing University and control passed to the Board of Governors.

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