A native of New Orleans, Carol Burk has been around the Society of the Sacred Heart her entire life. She was born into a large, close-knit family on Christmas Day 1942. Growing up, she, her five sisters, and many cousins attended Sacred Heart schools in New Orleans, just as her grandmother and great-grandmother did.
Being aware of her calling as early as kindergarten, Sister Burk was not one to be influenced by others. Instead, she followed her own path. One particular time she recalls occurred when she was still in primary school. A woman came in to talk to the classes and began going around the classroom, patting each child on the head and asking what they wanted to be when they grow up. However, Sister Burk thought it shouldn’t matter to this woman. She remembers thinking that the only way out of this one was to give a ‘wrong’ answer, so she said she would be a ballerina, just like the girl next to her.
On August 15, 1961, Sister Burk entered the Society of the Sacred Heart at the young age of eighteen and proceeded to make her first vows on April 25, 1964 while still in college. As a novice, she made it clear that she was interested in and determined to go to Sweden. However, at the time, the Society did not have a ministry in Sweden. So, instead, Sister Burk continued her studies and graduated from Loyola University and Maryville College in 1966. Upon graduation, she began her ministry at the Academy of the
Sacred Heart in St. Charles, Missouri as a primary surveillant (much like a dean of students) and teacher. After two years here, she spent one semester at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans before leaving for Rome to make her final profession. She did so on July 2, 1969.
Upon returning to the United States, Sister Burk also returned to teaching. During the next five years, she taught one semester Villa Duchesne in St. Louis, studied one semester at Lone Mountain in San Francisco, and then taught mostly lower and middle school classes at the Academies of the Sacred Heart in Grand Coteau, Louisiana and St. Charles. While she enjoyed these positions, in 1974, she was given the opportunity that she had been waiting for. She was being sent to Sweden.
Sister Burk refers to the eighteen years in Sweden as the best of her life. When she first arrived, she began studying. She took classes to learn the language and to gain her teacher’s certificate for her new country. Upon receiving this degree, she was given the position of preschool teacher in our house of Johannesgarden, in Gotherburg, Sweden. During her time there, she also worked as a catechist, retreat director and treasurer.
In 1992, Sister Burk returned home for year to care for her infirm mother. During this time, she volunteered at the newly opened Alzheimer’s Day Center and at the parish school with tutoring. After her mother died, she returned to Sweden where she began working as a caregiver for a family with whom she is still in contact today. In addition, she worked in the parish making home visits, leading a study group, and being a catechist and teacher. She worked in the Swedish Ecumenical Ignatian Movement (now, KOMPASS), eventually leading retreats and giving spiritual direction. She also served as a hospital chaplain and in parish ministry, doing religious education, Bible study, preparation for sacraments and home visits.
In 2008, it was decided that the work in Sweden was being closed and four of the sisters there would return to their home countries. Sister Burk returned to New Orleans in March, 2009. The years in Sweden are very dear to her and, while she misses the people very much, she continues to stay in contact with many friends and colleagues in Sweden.
Since returning to New Orleans Sister Burk is living an active retirement, volunteering some hours at the Academy of the Sacred Heart (The Rosary) and another school. She especially enjoys teaching the students origami and knitting.
Sister Burk believes that it is the little acts that truly show the character of the Society. While those working in ministries around the world are doing great things for those who live there, being good neighbors and brightening people’s days are the things she believes to be the most important. As she said, “they can be ordinary, regular people. You don’t have to try to get information or explain yourself, just talk to them or do something that would be helpful to them in the moment ... that’s all the Sacred Heart is.”