Brother Cletus Burke, a former dean of students and assistant principal at Bishop McGann-Mercy Diocesan High School who drew the admiration of students even in a role of disciplinarian, died Thursday morning. He was 69.
It was in his personality, according to his longtime colleague Mike Clauberg, that allowed Brother Cletus to connect to the students. Brother Cletus was always warm and loving, even when he had to act tough.
Brother Cletus was “the epitome of love,” Mr. Clauberg said.
“He had this natural love for the young people of the church, and he just accepted everybody for who they were,” Mr. Clauberg said. “He taught me so much about loving the student, about loving the person no matter who they are.”
Brother Cletus died in hospice care after a battle with cancer. He worked at Mercy from about 2000 to 2007 before transitioning to a position at St. Anthony’s High School in Huntington Station.
“He was an unbelievable person,” Mr. Clauberg said. “Everyone from the Mercy community is broken-hearted over the situation.”
Brother Cletus first worked at St. Anthony’s High School from 1972 to 1985. In a 13-year span, he worked as a social studies teacher, chair of the social studies department and as an assistant principal.
He returned to St. Anthony’s in 2007 as an honors U.S. history teacher and as the moderator of girl’s soccer and lacrosse.
“Brother Cletus was the most passionate, entertaining and captivating educator that I’ve ever met in my entire life,” said Lew Cordina, chairman of St. Anthony’s social studies department. “He made everything interesting to students, and he had a way of bonding with them that was truly special.”
Around 2000, Brother Cletus was hired as an assistant principal at Mercy. He also served as dean of students during his entire tenure.
Sister Elaine Hanson was the principal when Brother Cletus was hired, and she was immediately struck by his passion and expertise.
“We were delighted to have him because he was just an educator from tip to toe,” she said. “If you ask, ‘What kind of person do you want as an administrator?’ Brother Cletus would be top of that list.”
As an assistant principal and dean of students, he got to know all the students well and would manage to learn every student’s name. Many of them he assigned an affectionate nickname.
“He felt that the hope of the future was in the hands of today’s young people,” Sister Elaine said. “The ones who got in trouble loved him just the same as those who never got in trouble.”
Brother Cletus often employed more unorthodox methods of maintaining order.
“He’d catch kids smoking by popping out of trees,” Mr. Clauberg recalled. “One time, there was a problem on a bus at Mercy, so he waited behind a seat and then popped out once the bus started going.”
He always maintained a sense of humor.
Emily Jennerich, a 2005 Mercy graduate, recalled the time she tore her anterior cruciate ligament during basketball practice. Brother Cletus offered her encouragement with this line: “If you were a horse, they would have shot you by now.”
At a time when she was feeling her worst, Brother Cletus made her smile, she said.
“No matter what mood you were in, he would put a smile on your face when you were done talking to him,” Ms. Jennerich said. “He was an amazing person. He will be missed greatly by all us Mercy students.”
Mr. Clauberg, who is switching jobs this fall to work at St. Anthony’s, said he will adorn his office with a picture of he and Brother Cletus in his mentor’s honor.
“He said he would be with me in the fall,” he said. “I’m going to continue to ask for his guidance through prayer. As far as I’m concerned, he’s still going to be with me.”
A wake will be held at St. Anthony’s on Sunday, Aug. 30 from 2 to 5 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. He will receive a Christian burial on Monday, Aug. 31 at 11 a.m. at St. Anthony of Padua Church in East Northport.
Photo caption: Brother Cletus in an undated yearbook photo for St. Anthony’s High School. (Courtesy photo)