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Sister Roberta Burke

Queen of Hearts

Sister Roberta Burke, adopted daughter of Elizabeth and Thomas Burke (Waukon), entered the Presentation community at age 15. Sister ministered in 10 different locations during her 52 year-career as teacher, principal and home care assistant. During her retirement years Sister Roberta collected cancelled stamps to raise funds for Presentation projects benefitting the poor, was an active participant in her prayer group of many years, and played cards. Did you read “played cards?” For Sister Roberta, playing cards was about more than the game; it was her way of connecting people. Thus, each table at her funeral dinner was graced with a deck of cards.

Reflecting on her 75th Jubilee in 2008 she stated, “I am truly grateful for the countless blessings of these 75 years of religious life.” In an aside to her beloved cousin, Brother Leo Ryan, CSV, with her typical humor, she quipped, “I’ve decided to stay.”

Sister Roberta leaves a record and a heritage. Entering the Sisters of the Presentation in 1932, she had been a member for 80 years; that’s a record! She was a free spirit who loved life, celebrated life and lived it to the full. Wherever she went, whatever she did, she enjoyed it – and she made a positive difference. That’s the heritage.

An off-the-chart-extrovert, Sister Roberta loved people. As shared by Deacon Jim Thill in the funeral homily, “She could talk to anyone, anytime, anywhere – and she did!” He added, “Everyone should have a Sister Roberta in their life.”

Similar sentiments were expressed during the “Sharing of Memories” at her wake service. Karla Gindling from Waterloo, Iowa, grand-niece of deceased Sister Mary Matilda Kollasch, poignantly shared her childhood experiences of Sister Roberta.

My family became acquainted with Sister Roberta through my great aunt. I stand here now, because Sister Roberta inspired my earliest and most powerful conception of God.

Forty years ago, when I was three years old, Sister Roberta’s travels brought her to Cedar Falls, and she came to visit my parents. I had never had any personal contact with religious at the time. I saw priests and nuns at church, but they were somewhat intimidating in their black garb, kind of scary, really, and I hadn’t had any interaction with them on a personal level.

And then Sister Roberta came to our house. She laughed. And her eyes sparkled. She played with me. She chased me down the hall and caught me and tickled me! She talked with me and read me stories, and hugged me and held me close, and kissed me on the forehead. Because her name was difficult, she said I could call her Sister Bobbie.

And during the time she visited, I figured it out! I knew who God was! God had been there – in my very own house – and he came there with that lady who worked for him – that lady dressed in black. They were alike, Sister Bobbie and God, right? Because she was his ambassador, and God was her Boss – she worked for God!

So in this way, my three-year-old-mind came to understand who God was: God was Safety; God was Love. And God was Joy. Just like Sister Bobbie.

I have no doubt that when Sister Roberta meets God face-to-face the God of Safety, the God of Love, the God of Joy, He will embrace her, and hug her, and hold her close with sparkling eyes, just as she did with me those 40 years ago, and God will say to her. “Good Job. Well Done, my Good and Faithful Servant.”

It’s true, Sister Roberta was not your typical, run-of-the-mill, stereotypical sister. But she was an amazing witness, Good News in any setting, exuding joy, peace and a good time. As Deacon Thill stated: “She took the Lord to the ‘market place,’ and that’s where he wants to be.”

Paraphrasing the gospel Deacon Jim concluded his homily, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. I’ll make the arrangements for you and when the time comes, I’ll come back to get you.” And he did, just as Sister Roberta knew he would. Now that’s a winning hand!

If you would like to make a memorial gift in memory of Sister Roberta, click here.

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