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Sister Elaine Burke is still representing her Academy classmates of 75 years

The Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph are celebrating 150 years at Maple Mount in 2024 – and Sister Elaine Burke has been there for half of them.


Sister Elaine graduated from Mount Saint Joseph Academy in 1949, and is one of seven members of that class who celebrate 75 years this year. The living members of her class are Mary Theresa Powers Hayden, Mary Jo Sweatt Nault, Doris Boone O’Daniel, Joan Clayton Payne, Mary Jean Russell Payne, and Joan Evans Stasel. Only Ursuline Sisters Luisa Bickett and Clarita Browning – both the class of 1947 – have been at the Mount longer.


Sister Elaine and Betty Bickett were the only members of the class who’ve come to Alumnae Weekend in the past five years, and with Betty’s passing in June 2023, Sister Elaine may be the only representative when alums gather on Aug. 24-25, 2024. She will still enjoy the day.


“I like seeing a lot of old friends,” she said. “I’ve gotten to know people who have become friends.”


Her journey to becoming a Mount girl began after she’d already spent two years in public high school in her native Louisville.


“I was a pretty prayerful girl, but I hadn’t thought about becoming a Sister because I was so busy playing sports,” she said. She was one of 11 children, and sports were important in the Burke family. Sister Elaine played field hockey, softball and basketball.


She attended St. Rita Elementary School, where the Ursulines of Louisville taught her. She began feeling the call to religious life halfway through high school.


“At the end of my sophomore year of high school, I was interviewed by the superior of the Ursulines of Louisville. I told my mom, ‘I don’t think this is where I need to be.’ Mom suggested I go to the Academy. It would help me get used to being away from home.”


Two of her mother’s sisters were Ursulines of Mount Saint Joseph – Sister Mary Carmelita and Sister Nazaria Mattingly.


“Mom’s decision was life-changing for me,” Sister Elaine said. “I like risk, to take on new and different things. It helped me grow up. I didn’t feel insecure. I put my whole heart and soul into everything I did. But I still had that playfulness in me.”


“It was no time after I arrived that I knew this is where I wanted to be,” Sister Elaine said. “At the Academy, we had time to study and at night we played games. We did a lot of dancing. We went roller skating. We got up at 5 something in the morning for Mass with the Sisters.”


Sister Elaine missed playing sports, and she was also very homesick her first year.


“I asked my parents about coming home for Thanksgiving, but they suggested I stay,” she said. “If I’d gone home, I might not have come back. When I went home for Christmas, I saw all my friends and I was fine.”


“During my senior year, I came out of the chapel and it was raining. Mother Immaculata, the superior, asked if I wanted to walk under her umbrella,” Sister Elaine said. “While we were walking, I said, ‘I’d like to become a nun.’ We went to her office and she gave me the paperwork.’” Her postulant class had 25 young women. In 2025, Sister Elaine will celebrate her 75th jubilee as an Ursuline.

Sister Elaine Burke, left, with Alberta Kuhn, her sometimes dance partner during their days at Mount Saint Joseph Academy.

Her closest friend at the Academy also joined the community with her – Sister Joan Walz. Alberta Kuhn was her dance partner, and Mary Kennedy and Gertie Hall Mayhew were among her lifelong friends. “We were a close-knit group,” Sister Elaine said.


Among the Sisters who taught her, she credits Sister Martha Ann Cargile for helping to shape her.


“She was like a mother to me,” Sister Elaine said. “When I entered the novitiate, she’d ask if she could come visit me.”


Sister Elaine was sent on her first mission in 1952, as the only new Sister traveling to Nebraska.


“It was exciting. I really loved it,” she said. From 1952-57, she taught all the younger grades.


“I loved being out in the snow with them. I still hear from two of those kids.”


She returned to teach in Louisville after that. Her ministries have taken her all over the country, and in different facets of spirituality since leaving the classroom. Her favorite ministry was when she served as director of religious education and as parish minister at St. Mary Parish in Bloomfield, New Mexico, from 1983-88.


“It was all new culture and language,” she said. “I loved it and I loved the people.”


These days, Sister Elaine binds quilts for the Mount Quilt ministry, and is active in the Powerhouse of Prayer. In September 2022 she was honored by Owensboro’s RiverPark Center for her 30 years of volunteer service to the performing arts center.

She still remembers fondly her days at the Academy. During the deconstruction of the Academy buildings in 2023, Sister Elaine came to watch the work every day.


“I had a lot of lasting memories,” she said. “I appreciated the education and the fun we had. It was like a home away from home, with a bunch of girls.”




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