It is no surprise that Sr. Joan Burke speaks of the globe as “my village.” Where she has been and what she has done in 50 years in Notre Dame is quite incredible.
It all began in a very Catholic family in Millbrae where Joan was the youngest of four daughters. From her early years she felt affinity with the story of St. Julie Billiart and Francoise Blin de Bourdon, the SND co-foundresses, and their experience of founding the congregation in France and Belgium during the French Revolution. This stayed with her even throughout her student days at Mercy High School, Burlingame. She always speaks with appreciation for her four years there. After graduation from College of Notre Dame (now Notre Dame de Namur University) she taught high school in Alameda and Belmont. She also gained a degree in library science from University of California, Berkeley.
Sr. Joan spent a year in France working with an organization called the International Movement ATD Fourth World. Prior to this assignment she had served eight years as Notre Dame NGO Representative at the United Nations. There she learned of ATD, which is dedicated to people living in deep poverty and accompanying them in their struggles to realize their aspirations.
In a way, Sr. Joan has been “on the road” since her mid-twenties when she was named the congregation Mission Secretary, based in Rome, and visited our ministries on five continents. She became fascinated with the interplay of the Gospel and culture, which led to intensive study and three degrees from Oxford in social anthropology. During close to 20 years in Africa, she was engaged in understanding the religious life among African women. This interest culminated in a book, “Towards the Inculturation of Religious Life in Africa: A Case Study and Reflection Guide.”
Many will not remember, nor even imagine, that for one brief year of transition (1976) Sr. Joan served as the coordinator of school lunch programs for the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Bishop Pierre DuMaine still enjoys recalling he met her when she was a “milk maid”!
Her experience in France is helping her learn first-hand of the experience of people living in deep poverty in a developed country, in this case, at Noisy le Grand, a suburb of Paris. In her work there she has coordinated programs for teens and helped mothers with carpentry. Another book perhaps?
Today you will find Sr. Joan working in Kenya with young Sisters. Carry on, Sr. Joan! There are more challenges ahead for you, more lives to touch!