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St. Francis remembers counselor

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Classes at St. Francis Preparatory School were dismissed one period early Friday after Burke, 27, of Bellerose, died from bacterial meningitis.A spunky woman whose smile, laughter, community involvement, strong opinions and outspokenness made her a favorite among students and faculty at the school, Burke was also well-loved at her alma maters Van Buren High School in Queens Village and St. John's University in Fresh Meadows. She did not seek the spotlight, said Pastor Thomas Carpino of Malverne Bible Church in Malverne, L.I., where the funeral service took place.Standing by Burke's casket at the front of the church, Carpino said the guidance counselor preferred to be at the back of the room. "LeeAnne would've hated this," he said.St. Francis Prep Chaplain William Sweeney fondly recalled Burke's penchant for arguing, especially on the topics of God and religion. "I always told her, LeeAnne, I hope you go before I do because you'll be so busy arguing with God I might be able to sneak in the back," Sweeney said to hearty laughter from the packed pews.A college classmate said they noticed each other rolling their eyes one day in a class they both disliked. "You need to sit by me," Burke told her, and the two remained friends through not only the semester but the subsequent years, she said Tuesday.Letters were sent home with students Jan. 22 notifying them that a school official had contracted meningitis. Although Burke's name was not mentioned, word got around and students learned it was Burke who had the infection.St. Francis Prep announced Burke's death on its Web site Friday."I was seriously surprised because (the school) said she was getting better," said senior Keturah Reed outside the Fresh Meadows Catholic school Friday, noting that students were told Burke had gotten out of a coma and was eating since she had been diagnosed with the disease a week ago."It's truly a bad loss for Prep," said senior Chris Roshore. "Everybody's shocked and depressed," said Ralph Monfort, a senior from Rosedale. "In first period, everybody was down."City Health Department spokeswoman Sara Markt said via e-mail that the agency had investigated the meningitis case."The Health Department looked into whether any close contacts, such as family members and close friends, may have been at risk and provided antibiotic treatment," she said. Markt noted that bacterial meningitis is not spread through casual contact, such as sitting in a classroom or passing by the sufferer in the hallway.Symptoms of the infection include fever, chills, stiff neck, headache, rash, and nausea or vomiting.St. Francis Prep students said they were not concerned about contracting meningitis because the school informed them that meningitis is spread through contact with saliva.Burke's wake took place Sunday and Monday at Dalton's Funeral Home in New Hyde Park before Tuesday's funeral.A student who had Burke as her guidance counselor called her "a wonderful lady.""It's weird to see someone and then not see them," she said about Burke's death. "She was nice to everybody and she was always smiling."Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

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