New Wolfington Center director takes the lead

By Robert Riches
September 8, 2012

The College welcomed John Francis Burke, Ph.D., to the Cabrini community as executive director of the Wolfington Center, a position Burke began on July 1.

Burke, a native of the Lehigh Valley, made his return to Pennsylvania after spending the past 15 years with the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, where he served as a professor and chair of the political science department.

“I spent most of my academic career teaching political science and part of that background has been working on Catholic social teaching,” Burke said.

“Regardless of what institution I’ve been at…I’ve always tried to incorporate part of my academic portfolio commitment to Catholic social teaching.”

Burke earned his undergraduate degree in political science at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pa., as well as his master’s degree and Ph.D. at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. His professional career took him down to Texas and Mississippi before coming back to his native state of Pennsylvania.

“Coming up from Houston, where I spent 24 years and I spent most of my professional life, I am a native of the Lehigh Valley,” Burke said. “I grew up in Bethlehem…I have two brothers in the Philadelphia area, so I’m not a complete stranger to eastern Pennsylvania.”

Burke found out that the College was on a national search for a new Wolfington Center director, and decided to get involved.

“Cabrini did a national search,” Burke said. “I was aware of the search in part from Dr. [Jerry] Zurek- I did not know him real well but I knew him through networks in Catholic social teaching,” Burke said.

The fact that Burke is from a short drive away was what attracted him to the college as well.

“Given I was originally from this region of the country, I thought it also be an easier adjustment than if I went to Idaho or someplace else,” Burke said.

Burke sees himself being successful during his tenure at the Wolfington Center and feels as though it should be an interesting experience. There are several goals that he would like to work on during his time here.

“I think this first year it’s important to have a lot of conversations with faculty involved in the Justice Matters curriculum and especially students as well,” Burke said. “My hope is…that we can also begin to provide a stronger intellectual component to the Center.” Burke’s young experience at Cabrini has been enjoyable so far and he’s still looking forward to what his new job can bring.

“My intial experience with students has been very positive,” Burke said. “I look forward to having encounters with the various student groups that come through the Wolfington Center.

“I’ve been impressed by the number of students who really do seem genuinely concerned about social justice.”

While Burke is eager to join the Cabrini community, he is not the only one excited about the hiring.

“It’s going to be very exciting to have him on the College staff as a colleague,” Fr. Carl Janicki, director of Campus Ministry, said. “I look forward to…the opportunities that it affords the College.”

Burke’s first impression of the College has been a positive one and feels as though he truly has the chance to do something extraordinary with the Wolfington Center. “I have found Cabrini to be by and large a very friendly place,” Burke said. “I think that’s a positive thing; it’s made the transition a little bit easier.”


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Robert Riches

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