My Vocation Story — Sister Elaine Burke

Sister Elaine Burke was attending public high school in a Louisville, Ky., suburb at age 16 and considering joining the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville, who had taught her in elementary school. Her parents thought otherwise.

“My mom suggested I check out the Mount before deciding,” Sister Elaine said. Her mother’s sisters were Ursulines of Mount Saint Joseph, Sister Mary Carmelita Mattingly (who died in 1964) and Sister Mary Nazaria Mattingly (who died in 1992). Sister Elaine transferred to Mount Saint Joseph Academy for her junior year.

Sister Elaine Burke

“It was just a great place to be, we went to Mass every day, and said prayers in the evening,” Sister Elaine said. “I loved being with so many girls, to play games and goof off. I just found a family, we loved being together.”

Sister Elaine Burke grew up in the middle of 11 children born to John and Esther Burke. She has five brothers and one sister living. Coming from a big family was “absolutely wonderful,” Sister Elaine said.

“There was always something to do,” she said. “Horseshoes, basketball, I never had to find someone to play with.”

Sister Elaine said she didn’t learn until she arrived at the Mount that she’d been saying the rosary incorrectly her whole life, with only nine Hail Mary’s instead of 10.

“The first bead was the Our Father, the large bead in between was the Glory Be to the Father, which left only nine Hail Marys in between,” she said. “I just thought everyone else had lost their place.”

Sister Elaine enjoyed a deep prayer life from an early age, which led her to make her vows with the Ursuline Sisters.

“I don’t know where I got this great desire to pray. I was caught up in it,” she said. “I felt that was my calling. I thought, ‘Where else do people pray like that, other than a convent?’ I never lost that desire for prayer. I don’t know how you can be a religious woman without a deep prayer life.”

The decision to join the Ursulines came during March of her senior year at the Academy.

“I was in church praying after breakfast and Mother Immaculata (O’Riley) asked if I wanted to walk under her umbrella,” Sister Elaine said. “I told her I was becoming a nun. We went to her office and she gave me the paperwork to fill out.” Sister Elaine went home for the summer and got involved in softball and other things, failing to fill out the paperwork.

“She called me about two weeks before I was to begin to see if I were coming and I said, ‘Oh yes.’ She told me to get my paperwork in.” Her novice class in 1950 had 25 women, one of the largest ever.

During her 65 years as a sister, she has been a teacher, principal, a director of religious education and a supervisor of religious education at the diocesan level. She was associate director of the Mount Saint Joseph Conference and Retreat Center (1991-2007) and is one of the founding team members of the Spiritual Direction Training Program at the Center. She is the spiritual adviser for Cursillo, and since 2005 has ministered at Brescia University in Owensboro, Ky., first in the spiritual component of the ministry formation program, and since 2009, as the administrative assistant in the theology department.

“One of my many blessings as an Ursuline Sister was being sent to missions in Nebraska, Kentucky and New Mexico, where I experienced people of different races, religions and cultures,” Sister Elaine said. “My mind, my spirit and my openness to all of life was broadened. In my spare time I love volunteering at the RiverPark Center where I am also culturally enriched by attending Broadway shows, the Owensboro Symphony, plays and concerts of various kinds. My favorite quote is, ‘To live life to the fullest.’ That is what being an Ursuline Sister has allowed me to do.”