Deacon George W. Burnett, who served for many years as permanent deacon at St. Patrick’s Parish in Owego, died Oct. 8, 2004, at his Owego home after a lengthy battle with lung cancer. He was 76 years old.
Deacon Burnett was a native of the village of Valatie, located near Albany. He attended Siena College and was also a petty officer in the United States Navy during World War II in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater.
He served as chief of the Valatie Police Department from 1960-65 before moving to Owego. He worked in Binghamton for many years as supervising investigator for the state Department of Law, Bureau of Litigation and Claims. He retired from the state in 1990.
Deacon Burnett was ordained to the permanent diaconate in the Diocese of Rochester on June 7, 1986, by Bishop Matthew H. Clark. As a deacon he served within St. Patrick’s Parish and also played a significant role in the diocesan Tribunal, interviewing people who were going through the annulment process.
“He said some of the people were so hurting and traumatized, and he felt he was able to do some good,” said his wife of 54 years, Catherine “Pat” Burnett.
Deacon Burnett’s caring ways extended through the Tioga County area. In fact, Pat Burnett said, just a few weeks before her husband’s death she was approached by a woman who had been on the receiving end of Deacon Burnett’s kindness several years earlier while the woman was a patient at Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pa.
“She said ‘He made a big difference to me; he was the only person who visited me the whole time I was there,'” Pat Burnett said.
Deacon Burnett officially retired from the diaconate in 2000. Yet Father William Moorby, pastor of Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick’s parishes, said Deacon Burnett continued to assist at St. Patrick’s, often helping out with preaching.
“George was a very faithful man. His family meant a lot to him, and his parish community meant a lot to him,” Father Moorby said.
“George was a very gentle spirit — very easygoing, very loving. And he was much loved in the diaconate community, as well as the (parish) community he served,” said Deacon David Palma, director of the diocesan Office of Deacon Personnel.
Deacon Burnett is the second deacon that St. Patrick’s Parish has lost this year; his good friend, Deacon Robert Dizer, died June 14. In a June 26 Courier obituary on Deacon Dizer, Deacon Burnett credited Deacon Dizer and his wife, Joan, with influencing his and his wife’s decision that he enter the diaconate. “It was because of our heart-to-heart talks that I followed my feelings,” Deacon Burnett said in the article.
Along with his diaconal ministry, Deacon Burnett was a life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 1371, American Legion Post No. 410, and Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks Lodge No. 1039.
In addition to his wife, Deacon Burnett is survived by 11 children; 20 grandchildren; three nieces; one nephew; and numerous in-laws.
His funeral Mass took place Oct. 15 at St. Patrick’s Church, with Bishop Clark serving as celebrant. Interment was to be at St. John the Baptist Cemetery in Valatie.