Reverend Nathaniel John Bourke, a Roman Catholic priest of 55-years of service to the people of God, and the 20-year pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Billings (from 1979 to 1999), died of a cardiac arrest on August 30, 2014 at Valley Health Center in Billings at the age of 81.
Born in Inchicore, Dublin, Ireland on June 24, 1933, to parents John Paul and Agnes Bourke, Father Nat was the second of five surviving children. He was educated in St. Michael’s Christian Brothers School, and later in James Street Christian Brothers School. His mother was a civil servant, and his father a train driver. At the age of 19, he entered St Patrick’s Seminary in Thurles, County Tipperary and was ordained June 14, 1959, at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Thurles, County Tipperary, Ireland. He said his first Mass on June 15, 1959.
Father Nat immigrated to the United States on August 24, 1959, to become a priest in the Great Falls-Billings Diocese. In September 1959, the bishop appointed him to be the assistant pastor of St. Raphael Church in Glasgow. So began his long priesthood serving the people of Eastern Montana, including the following subsequent successive assignments:
August 1961, assistant pastor St. Pius X Church in Billings, and teacher at Billings Central Catholic High School; August 1966, administrator of St. Mathias Church in Ryegate; February 1968, pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Bridger; August 1970, co-pastor of St. Pius X Church in Billings; July 1974, pastor of St. Benedict Church in Roundup; July 1979, co-pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Billings; July 1985, pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Billings.
On July 1, 1999, Father Nat retired from the active ministry, but filled-in for brother priests as needed. His family frequently sought to entice him back to Ireland. But, with the exception of periodic visits to the Emerald Isle, he remained in Billings for the rest of his life. He now returns home to Ireland to be interred with his parents in Esker Cemetery, Dublin.
Father Nat enjoyed golfing (having once scored a hole-in-one on #5 at Yellowstone Country Club with a “Callaway Heaven Wood”), fly-fishing, poker, and Canadian blended whiskey and 7-Up with friends. He treasured being invited into the homes of his parishioners for evenings of good food and camaraderie. He was a private man, who was also known for his pithy and insightful homilies. His quiet and personal acts of kindness and charity are too many to mention, much less fathom. His words of comfort brought solace to the bereaved in times of sadness, and inspired the faithful. He welcomed with open arms new souls to the faith, and led fiscally sound parishes.
His brother, Paddy and his wife Patsy, and sisters, Mary and Joan, survive Father Nat. He will also be sadly missed by his many nieces and nephews: six in the Bourke family of Kilcock Co., Kildare, Ireland (Marie, Pauline Ann, Patricia, Natalie and Morgan); three in the Meehan family (Gerard, Paul and Karl); and, two surviving members of the Bourke family of Clondalkin, Ireland (Liam and Colette). His parents predeceased him, as did his brother Billy, and two of Billy’s children.
Visitation will begin 10:00 am Tuesday, September 2, 2014 at Michelotti-Sawyers Mortuary. The Vigil service will be held at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church, 2055 Woody Drive, Billings at 7:00 pm on Wednesday evening, September 3, 2014, and the Funeral Mass will be conducted the next morning, September 4, 2014, beginning at 10:00 am, also at St. Thomas the Apostle Church. In lieu of flowers, please donate to a charity of your choice.