Bishop Burke was born in Richland Center, Wis., on June 30, 1948. He attended elementary school at St. Mary's, Richland Center, and after his family moved to Stratford, Wis., he attended St. Joseph's School there from 1959-62.
He attended high school at Holy Cross Seminary, La Crosse, Wis., from 1962-66, and also studied college courses there from 1966-68 before attending The Catholic University of America from 1968-71. He then studied theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and was ordained to the priesthood on June 29, 1975, at St. Peter's Basilica by Pope Paul VI.
His first assignment was as associate rector of the Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman, La Crosse, and he also taught religion at Aquinas High School in La Crosse. In 1980, he returned to Rome to study Canon Law at the Pontifical Gregorian University. After completing his studies, he was named Moderator of the Curia and Vice Chancellor of the Diocese of La Crosse in April of 1984.
In 1989, Father Burke returned to Rome when Pope John Paul II named him Defender of the Bond of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. He was serving in this position when he was appointed Bishop-Elect of the Diocese of La Crosse by Pope John Paul II on Dec. 10, 1994.
Bishop Burke's Episcopal ordination by Pope John Paul II took place at St. Peter's Basilica on Jan. 6, 1995, the Feast of the Epiphany. He was installed as diocesan bishop on Feb. 22, 1995, the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter.