Burke-Gaffney, Father Michael Walter, 1896-1979

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Burke-Gaffney, Father Michael Walter, 1896-1979

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Michael Walter Burke-Gaffney was born in Dublin, Ireland on 17 December 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 served as 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 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. 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. Burke-Gaffney died on Sunday, January 14, 1979 in Halifax, Nova Scotia (Who's Who in Science c.1968; Canadian Who's Who 1973/75; "Saint Mary's Mourns the Passing of Father Burke-Gaffney," The Times, Vol. 8, No.5 (Feb, 1979), Saint Mary's University: Halifax)


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