Sister Eva Marie Burke, MM

Born: May 23, 1909
Entered: April 5, 1930
Died: December 26, 2998

During this Christmas Season, we are reminded in today’s First Reading that “The world and its desires are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.” Today, we rejoice with Sister Eva Marie Burke who dedicated her life to living the will of God and who now lives forever with God.

At the age of eighty-nine, Sister Eva died on December 26, 1998, in the Assisted Living Unit of the Maryknoll Sisters Center. She had been a Maryknoll Sister for sixty-eight years. Mary Eva was one of five children born to Susan O’Rourke and John Burke in Cambridge, Massachusetts on May 23, 1909. She was a member of St. John’s Parish in North Cambridge and graduated from St. John’s Grammar School and Cambridge High School. After graduation Mary Eva worked at the Cambridge Box Company and Cambridge City Hall before entering the Maryknoll Sisters on April 5, 1930.

In later years, reflecting upon her missionary vocation and what attracted her to Maryknoll she wrote: “It was the spirit of the Maryknoll Sisters whom I had met – their spirit of gracious thoughtfulness, generous hospitality to strangers, and their cheerful joyous relations with other Sisters. During visits to Maryknoll I observed their warm friendliness and I thought that I could be happy among Sisters with such a community spirit.”

At Reception, Mary Eva received the religious name Sister Eva Marie. She made her First Vows at Maryknoll, NY on January 6, 1933. That same year she received her mission assignment to Darien, Manchuria where she taught in the kindergarten, was in charge of the sacristy, and also studied the Japanese language. A year later, Sister was assigned to Fushun. She went to Pengyang, Korea in 1934 to minister to the Japanese people residing in that country. While in Pengyang, she made her Final Vows January 6, 1936. In 1939, she was again assigned to Fushun where she continued her ministry until the onset of World War II. Sister Eva was repatriated to the United States, on the M.S. Gripsholm, in 1942.

Upon returning to the United States, Sister Eva obtained a degree in nursing at Providence Hospital in Washington, D.C., and passed her State Nursing Board Examination “cum laude”. After graduation, in 1946, she was assigned to Japan and for the next sixteen years worked among the people of Kyoto and Otsu teaching English, doing catechetical and parish work, and teaching ethics at a school of nursing. During these years, many Japanese from Manchuria and Korea had been repatriated to Japan. Among the repatriated were some of Sister’s friends whom she helped to reestablish their lives in Japan.

In 1962, when the officials of the city of Yokkaichi asked the Maryknoll Sisters to begin a high school for girls, Sister Eva was asked to go to the United States to solicit funds for this project. Before returning to Japan, she obtained a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education from Mary Rogers College, Maryknoll, NY.

Sister Eva had a special gift for languages and spoke fluent Japanese. At times she felt so much at home in the language that she would forget whether she was speaking English or Japanese. She returned to Japan in 1973 and for seventeen years taught at the Maryknoll Girls School and the Catholic Boys School in Yokkaichi. One of her students was somewhat of a problem and always managed to be in trouble. Sister gave her loving advice and tried hard to help her through difficult times. The student kept in contact with Sister Eva and one day appeared at the school door wanting to donate her first pay check to the school for all that Sister had done for her. She did not forget Sister’s many kindnesses through her difficult times.

At the time of her Golden Jubilee Sister Eva wrote the following regarding her growth and experiences in Maryknoll: “I believe my love of Maryknoll and being a Maryknoll missioner has been an infinitude of graces I have received through our Maryknoll Sisters’ Community and this has formed the core of my missionary life. Having been privileged to know, love and be taught by the spiritual ideals of Father Founder and Mother Mary Joseph, the ideals and inspirations they enkindled in my mind and heart – these are my treasures, these are the motivating forces of my life – serving God’s people for Christ is worthwhile.”

Sisters who have lived with Sister Eva shared how she always had great enthusiasm for celebrations. When special treats were not available in Kyoto she would take the train to Kobe and bring home the makings of a feast. The bundles were never too heavy and nothing was ever too much trouble to make the Sisters happy on a feast day. Throughout her life she tried to live the spirit she had observed when she first visited Maryknoll.

In 1990, Sister Eva retired from teaching and spent, what she called, “a few precious years in Kyoto” before transferring to Monrovia, California in 1994. Within a year, however, failing health necessitated her return to the Center. At that time she stated: “I see myself ‘in mission’ always, in all aspects of my life. I hope to serve in ‘mission life’ in any way that my age and health will permit. I see myself being in mission through my daily life experiences, interrelationships with the Sisters and medical staff and through prayer.”

In 1992, responding to a questionnaire from the Renewal Office regarding her many years in Japan, Sister wrote: “My ministry has been a wonderful, blessed experience of living among many different peoples in Manchuria, North Korea and Japan. It has made my life a very enriched one because of having met, lived among and shared experiences with so many people from different nations and cultures. As you get to know and understand them, appreciation, admiration, respect and love grows. I thank God that I have been permitted to live among these members of God’s universal family and to serve them in some of their needs.”

When I recently visited Sister Eva in the hospital, she told me she was experiencing “a great hunger for sleep.” Her great hunger has now been satisfied as she rests with her God in eternal life.

We know that you will miss Sister but be assured that she will continue caring for you from heaven. We thank you for sharing Sister Eva with us these past sixty-eight years. I welcome our Maryknoll brother, Father Emile Dumas, who knew Sister Eva while in mission in Japan, and who will preside at this Eucharistic Celebration of Christian Burial.