Burgess, who graduated from the acclaimed Toronto choir school in 1963 and went on to become a beloved actor and singer, died Sept. 28 after a long and private battle with cancer.
“It was a very dignified funeral,” said Adrian Luces, a friend of Burgess and fellow alumni of St. Michael's.
Luces said he was honoured when Burgess called him three weeks before his death to begin making the arrangements. He was intent on ensuring his old friend received “a beautiful ceremony with beautiful music.”
“It has been extremely humbling,” he said. “I feel extremely privileged that Michael asked me to be a part of helping him pass peacefully. It gives me goosebumps.”
In addition to the alumni choir providing the liturgical music, a current choir school student served as a cantor. Luces and Jackie Richardson sang "Danny Boy" and "Amazing Grace" during Communion.
The Toronto Police Service honour guard and a police piper also attended.
Burgess, who starred in the original production of Les Misérables, “died in peace and dignity,” in hospital, Luces said. He was 70.
“It is sad but I am happy that he is at peace,” said Luces, who became friends with Burgess in 2007 while organizing a choir school gala at Roy Thompson Hall.
“It is difficult because Michael didn't necessarily take care of himself ... (and) maybe Michael could have been here a little bit longer. So it makes you sad that he's gone but at the same time grateful and blessed that he has gone peacefully.”
In addition to on-stage and TV work, Burgess had a passion for sports and the gifted tenor was often found belting out "O Canada" at the Air Canada Centre or the Rogers Centre. He sang the national anthem in Game 1 of the 1992 World Series between the Blue Jays and Atlanta Braves.
Several former hockey stars, including Paul Coffey, Darryl Sittler and Bobby Orr, a paulbearer, attended the funeral.
Bruce Bowser, another close friend of Burgess who assisted Luces in the funeral planning, spoke about his friend's love of sports, his fans and the many charities he supported over the years.
“He changed things,” said Bowser, a former CBC reporter. “God has brought Michael home to a place in the sun, a place of peace and rest.”
Luces called Burgess a “philanthropic artist,” who gave back often without seeking recognition.
St. Michael's Choir School issued a statement that called Burgess one of the school's "greatest ambassadors."
"Michael was an outstanding individual whose talents and contributions to the country’s cultural landscape will endure despite the fact that he left us all too soon," the statement read. "He gave generously of his time and talents, and was an enthusiastic supporter of St. Michael’s Choir School throughout his illustrious career.
He will remain an inspiration to the many SMCS students who aspire to follow in his footsteps; and will be gravely missed by his St. Michael’s Choir School family."