Congratulations Kath Burke RSM
Read by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Quality and Outreach), Professor John O’Gorman, BA, PhD, FAPS on the occasion of the conferring by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Peter W. Sheehan AO, BA, PhD, FAPS (Hon.), FAPSA, FASSA (Hon.), FACE, of the degree of Doctor of the University, Honoris Causa, on May 10, 2006.
Kathleen Mary Burke RSM
The vision of the Second Vatican Council has called forth those who would challenge the followers of Christ to become involved in “the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of… people, especially those who are poor or are in any way afflicted.” Sister Kath Burke, a postgraduate student in Rome at the close of the Council and who chose Gaudium et Spes as her dissertation area, is one who accepted both the vision and challenge to make a significant difference in the lives of many.
Having completed her Arts degree and majoring in English and French, Kath Burke taught in Anglican and state secondary schools in a number of country towns and Brisbane. She completed a postgraduate degree in Education as a Sister of Mercy and began her long and distinguished career in Catholic schools, especially All Hallows’. Her scholarship and expertise were quickly recognized and she took up a lecturing position at McAuley College and briefly at Catholic Teachers College, Sydney. Her interest in education and in the affairs of Australian Catholic University has never waned even after she completed a four-year term on the Brisbane Chapter of the University.
Kath Burke’s commitments, however, have reached out to address many issues reflected in the Vatican Council’s documents. She was a founding member of Concerned Christians, those Brisbane Christians who publicly opposed discriminatory policies of the government of the day. She took part in street marches, rallies, Roma Street Forums and demonstrations to advocate for land rights and better conditions for our Indigenous peoples. Perhaps it was because she wore her Sister of Mercy habit that she drew much needed attention to these activities. Kath was a key member of the inaugural National Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace during the 1970s and early 1980s. At this time, Kath took a mini-Sabbatical from McAuley Teachers College studying theology at Boston College Summer School and visiting Chile and Peru to learn first hand of the newly-developing lay Basic Christian Communities (BCC).
She has been equally to the fore in advocating for women. With others, she developed a Diploma in Theology for women religious in Queensland at a time in Church history when no official provision was made by the Church for such studies for women. Kath used the opportunities provided to her from overseas studies to benefit others. She has done this through her personal efforts and through her membership of many Archdiocesan and other committees, such as the Institute of Faith Education and the Archdiocesan Religious Education Commission.
One of the many threads of Kath’s rich gifts is her ecumenical spirit, also a reflection of the Vatican Council’s vision. As a member of the Archdiocesan Commission for Ecumenism for five years, she engaged with other faiths to enrich both herself and all whom she has served. Her social engagement has been with those of other faiths, people from whom she has learnt much of a fuller meaning of justice and equity. She is currently involved in the dynamic area of Christian-Muslim dialogue which expresses her ongoing interest in peoples’ search for God in their lives.
As a Sister of Mercy, Kath Burke has been a significant leader of change both in her own congregation and in the wider sisterhood in Australia. In addition to her time as teacher at All Hallows’ and lecturer at McAuley College, Kath Burke has served eight years on the Governing Council of the Mater Hospital. She has been a founding member of Mercy International Association for five years, and a member of the national executive of the Australian Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes. Sister Kath has served as the Congregational Leader of the Brisbane Sisters of Mercy and for a significant period as President of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy, Australia.
Vice-Chancellor, Sister Kathleen Mary Burke, RSM, BA and BEd (University of Queensland), MSSc (Regina Mundi, Rome) is a woman of extraordinary religious zeal and social commitment. She has furthered the cause of the Indigenous peoples, women, especially religious women, and those whom the Council described as “poor and who were in any way afflicted”. I ask that you bestow on Kathleen Mary Burke this University’s highest honour, Doctor of the University (honoris causa).