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Students studying books at a large table

A Seat at the Table

Harriet and Chuck Burke left a legacy of inclusion

In her years as a pastoral associate and campus minister at St. Mark’s University Parish in Isla Vista, Harriet Burke delighted in working with youth. For Harriet, Catholicism was about social justice and how you cared for others. In the early 2000s, Harriet and her husband, Chuck, led the effort to establish an endowed chair in Catholic studies at UC Santa Barbara. The Burkes’ leadership and legacy gift to campus will continue to infuse student lives with curiosity and wonder.

Harriet and Chuck’s vision came to life in 2005, when Professor Ann Taves became the first scholar appointed to the Virgil Cordano Chair in Catholic Studies. The endowed chair honors Father Cordano, a Franciscan friar and pastor of the Santa Barbara Mission. 

“The Cordano Chair gave me the opportunity to explore Catholicism historically and in the present,” said Professor Taves. “Chuck and Harriet shared an expansive vision that knit the study of Catholicism deeply into the department and the university in constant conversation with other traditions.” 

Endowed chairs are prized positions that provide ongoing financial support for enhanced research and teaching. The Burkes structured their support through a charitable remainder trust, which provided them with lifetime income and distributed the remainder to the Cordano Chair following their passing. Their leadership and positivity inspired donations from Charles Schwab, the Franciscan friars and many generous contributors. 

“She had a great sense of humor, that spark of life,” said her daughter Mo Lovegreen ‘85. 

Even in her late eighties, Harriet marched for causes including Pride, Safe Parking and cancer research. Chuck and Harriet’s five children, 10 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren knew friends were always welcome at the Burke household. 

“Grandma and Grandpa saw Catholicism as a way of bringing people together, expanding our circle instead of limiting it,” said Nathaniel Burke ’01.

In 1973, Chuck and Harriet attended a Catholic retreat for couples. Inspired, the Burkes began facilitating marriage retreats everywhere from Fresno to the Philippines. They led by example; Harriet and Chuck were married for 53 happy years. 

The Burke family has a strong connection to UC Santa Barbara: daughters Mo and Kathy, grandson Nathaniel, and grandson-in-law Miles all work on campus. They see the endowed chair in Catholic studies as an extension of Chuck and Harriet’s philosophy.

“It’s inclusive,” said Mo. “Everyone has a seat at the table.”