Michael Burke-Gaffney

(1896-1979) Civil engineer and Jesuit astronomer; member of the Halifax Centre; received the Service Award in 1964.

MICHAEL W. BURKE-GAFFNEY (1896-1979) was born in Dublin and graduated there in Civil Engineering. Following the First World War, he joined his brother in Manitoba and was soon designing bridges for the province. But, he recalled, he began to lose satisfaction with "just making money" and decided to enter the Jesuit order in 1920.

At the time there were no Canadian Jesuit astronomers, though astronomy had long been a tradition in the order. So, as he told it, after three years teaching chemistry, '"he Father Superior looked around for someone to turn into an astronomer, and spied me." Years of study culminated in a Ph.D. in Astronomy from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., in 1935. His thesis was the basis for a book, Kepler and the Jesuits. Dr. Burke-Gaffney then came to Toronto where he joined the RASC and taught Astronomy at Regis College. Following a short period as Professor of Astronomy at St. Paul's College in Winnipeg, he and a group of Jesuit priests were sent to Halifax in 1940 to assume responsibility for St. Mary's University. There Burke-Gaffney served with distinction, first as Dean of Engineering, then as Dean of Science and after 1955 as Professor of Astronomy.

A member of the IAU and other learned societies, he published a number of papers, some in the Journal, and addressed the Halifax Centre many times over the years. For his enthusiastic support and his key role in establishing astronomy in Nova Scotia, he was presented with the RASC Service Award in 1964. The M.W. Burke-Gaffney Observatory at St. Mary's opened in 1972, largely the result of a generous benefaction from one of his many admirers.

Peter Broughton (from Looking Up)

Further Reading

Burke-Gaffney, Michael W.