European Associates

Sr Sheila Burke, RSM (Religious Sisters of Mercy) was born on the 28th of April 1937 in Dublin, Ireland. She took her first vows in 1957 at Off Church, Lemington Spar, Warwickshire in England followed by her final profession in 1960 in the same place.

Sr Sheila Burke initially visited Fr Ronald J. McAinsh in Zimbabwe accompanied by Sr Martha around 1990. During her visit she immediately fell in love with the country and focused her heart on it. She told herself that when she finished her assignment at a school in England she would go back to Zimbabwe. This would not happen until 1993. In this first encounter she stayed in Zimbabwe for two years up to 1995. Back in England she had a 3 year spell at Hawkstone before returning where she stayed up to 2005. She had a wonderful experience in Zimbabwe but had to return to England as she was called up to leadership of her congregation.

One of the happiest times of my religious life was when I was in Zimbabwe. I was happy and I loved what I was doing. It is a lovely thing to sit back and see what came out of this small little embryo …Sr Sheila Burke, RSM
Sr Sheila, as she is popularly known, loved her experience in Zimbabwe because she was more in touch with her charism. Her work, for instance, involved taking care of the very poor and the sick everyday. This indeed was a life giving experience for her. That is why she was very sad to leave Zimbabwe. While working in Zimbabwe she remained in touch with her congregation which financially supported her and the mission in Tafara and Mabvuku. For example, it was during Sr Sheila’s time that the Catherine McAuley Hall and Our Lady’s were built. Her congregation contributed to that project.

When Sr Sheila first arrived only William Guri, Joel Nkusane and Benjamin Posvo were with the Redemptorists as postulants. Soon there would be something similar to the baby boom as many young people joined the congregation. It was as if when Fr Ronald J. McAinsh arrived in the area he had a vision for the place and he brought it to fulfilment. He actively campaigned for vocations and revived the noviciate programme. He built the postulancy, the thatched chapel (and the current one) and extended the main house in order to accommodate the influx of vocations. Sr Sheila could also see the wonderful training the guys were getting. In the parish as well, a new church was built in Mabvuku. Prior to that there were so many people jummed up every Sunday in the tiny old Church making it very difficult to move. In fact, they had to start using the new church even before it was completed.

Sr Sheila played an important role in the formation of Redemptorist students. She taught postulants the English Language and conducted weekly lessons on personal development (John Powell’s Happiness is an Inside Job) for a combined class of Redemptorits and Little Sisters of the Blessed Lady postulants. She was also responsible for the oral and practical driving lessons of many Redemptorist students. Redemptorists postulants who lived independently in Marienella house would come to her for food provisions. She was not only involved with postulants but did most of the shopping for the house.

Sr Sheila took her turn in the Parish. She started off with the youth, doing stations of the cross and playing various exiting and educative games in the hall. She also popularised the second-half of life workshops (mid-life crisis) in all the Redemptorist parishes. Her congregation actually sponsored brothers Tendai Tamai and Benjamin Posvo to get some training in the United States and on their return they helped her to facilitate the courses. In brief, Sr Sheila did a lot of work in the parish and in the community and it is impossible to fully capture it in this limited space. Hopefully she will write memoirs about her Zimbabwean experience.