Vale Sr Agnes, Sister and Scholar!
Sr Agnes Burke who died on 6 March this year was a much-loved and respected Sister of St Joseph whose mission in life was to teach the Good News of God’s love and to educate students up to tertiary level. She had a great love of learning, the theatre and cultural activities.
Agnes Philippa Burke was born in Cardiff on 2 February 1931 during the Great Depression to Michael Burke and Florence (nee Walker). She was named Philippa after her mother’s sister, who was a Dominican nun. Agnes, the fifth child of the family, was sister to Maurice, Terry, Moira and John. Her brothers all deceased her. Moira, her dearly loved sister, was still living at the time of Agnes’ death.
After completing her Primary schooling at St Joseph’s Merewether in 1943, Agnes won a State bursary and moved on to secondary school, boarding at St. Joseph’s College Lochinvar. Then followed an Intermediate Bursary in 1946 and a University Exhibition and Scholarship to Teachers’ Training College, in 1948.
Agnes entered the novitiate at Lochinvar on 24 June 1949, chose Sister Mary Michael as her religious name and was professed on 2 January 1952. After profession, she began her teaching ministry in the secondary school at Lochinvar. Appointments followed at Port Macquarie as Principal, Boarder Mistress and Teacher and in the mid1960s, as Principal, at St. Joseph’s Merewether. While there, Agnes began tertiary studies at Newcastle University graduating with Bachelor, Dip.Ed. and Masters degrees.
In 1976, Agnes moved to Sydney and began another phase of her life when she joined the staff at the Catholic College of Education that later became the Australian Catholic University where she lectured in Education. Agnes remained on the staff there until official retirement in 1999.
After very active years living in the Cardinal Freeman Village in Ashfield, declining health and advancing age caused her to return to the Newcastle area, to Southern Cross Care, Tenison Apartments in Swansea on 28 April 2018 and then to the Memory Support Unit at Caves Beach on 16 December 2019 where she died peacefully on Monday, 6 March 2023.
The Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated for Agnes in St Patrick’s Church, Swansea with the parish priest, Father Gerard Mackie presiding. The carefully chosen Scripture readings spoke to her life. The first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy ended aptly with the words: Do not forget the things which you yourselves have seen, or let them slip from your heart as long as you live; teach them, rather, to your children and to your children's children. The Gospel from Matthew echoed Agnes’ commitment to her role as teacher: Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations .... and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you.
At the conclusion of the Mass, the cortege moved through torrential rain to the parish cemetery in Lochinvar. It was in the Sisters’ section of the cemetery that her Sisters and friends gathered to commit Sr Agnes’ body to the earth, full of hope and sure in the knowledge that her life had been changed but not ended.