Lawsuit accuses priest of sexually abusing St. Sylvester’s student in 1960s

By Maura Grunlund
November 11, 2019

In this photo from April 1967, Rev. Thomas Burke is identified as the prior of Augustinian Academy when efforts were made to try and keep the school open.

A lawsuit accuses a priest who was a prominent member of the Augustinian Order on Staten Island of sexually abusing a child at St. Sylvester’s R.C. Church in Concord in the 1960s.

The Child Victims Act lawsuit was filed by Jeff Anderson & Associates on Aug. 14 in state Supreme Court in Manhattan on behalf of an anonymous alleged victim identified only as ARK63 DOE. Named as defendants in the lawsuits are the Archdiocese of New York, the Augustinian Order and related entities, including the former Augustinian Academy on Grymes Hill, and St. Sylvester’s Parish.

Accused in the lawsuit is the Rev. Thomas Burke, whose Island assignments included leadership positions at the former Augustinian Academy.

Father Burke died in 1984 at the age of 72, and is not named as a defendant.

The victim was a student and parishioner at St. Sylvester’s Parish and School at 856 Targee St. at the time of the alleged abuse, according to the lawsuit.

“From approximately 1966 to 1969, when Plaintiff was approximately 11 to 14 years old, Fr. Burke engaged in unpermitted sexual contact with Plaintiff,” the filing alleges.

During the years of alleged abuse, Father Burke was employed by the Archdiocese, St. Sylvester’s, the Augustinians and Augustinian Academy, according to the lawsuit.

“Fr. Burke remained under the direct supervision, employ, and control of Defendants,” the filing alleges. “Defendants placed Fr. Burke in positions where he had access to and worked with children as an integral part of his work.”

The lawsuit accuses the defendants of negligence.

“Prior to the sexual abuse of Plaintiff, Defendants learned or should have learned that Fr. Burke was not fit to work with children," according to the lawsuit. "Defendants, by and through their agents, servants and/or employees, became aware, or should have become aware of Fr. Burke’s propensity to commit sexual abuse and of the risk to Plaintiff’s safety. At the very least, Defendants knew or should have known that they did not have sufficient information about whether or not their leaders and people working at St. Sylvester, Augustinian Academy and other Catholic institutions within the Archdiocese of New York and/or the Augustinians were safe.”


Beginning in 1965, when Father Burke was in 50s, he was assigned to the Academy, where he served as prior and rector of postulants.

Starting in 1976, Father Burke was an assistant pastor at Our Lady of Good Counsel R.C. Church in Tompkinsville, according to his obituary and Advance records.

The lawsuit only includes allegations from the former St. Sylvester’s student.

Father Burke was employed as an engineer before he entered the order at Staten Island in 1936 and was ordained in 1941.

In the 1950s, Father Burke was a registrar at Villanova University and dean at Merrick College in Massachusetts. Before his return to Staten Island, he served at St. Nicholas R.C. Church in Atlantic City, N.J., and St. Augustine R.C. Church in upstate Troy, according to his obituary.

The Augustinians were a presence on Staten Island from 1899 until in 2016, when the order turned over its ministry and administration of Our Lady of Good Counsel to the Archdiocese, according to Advance records.

The Academy, which closed in 1969, was the first Catholic high school for boys on Staten Island, according to Advance records.

The Augustinians did not respond to a request for comment.

The Archdiocese declined to comment on specific cases.



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