Sister Helen Marguerite Burke died on September 7, 2019 and was buried at Saint Joseph Villa on September 11, 2019. Helen was born to Arthur and Marguerite Coyle Burke on April 18, 1942, in Conshohocken, PA. She, along with her parents and brothers, Arthur and Richard, eventually moved to Plymouth Meeting where they became parishioners at St. Philip, Lafayette Hill. After her days at St. Matthew School in Conshohocken, Helen met the Sisters of Saint Joseph as a student at Mount Saint Joseph Academy where she distinguished herself as a scholar, especially in her science classes.
In her later years, Helen remarked how the sisters at the Mount seamlessly blended the life of the spirit with the life of the mind. After completing her freshman year at Immaculata, Helen entered the Congregation in 1961, soon becoming S. Marguerite Helene.
After teaching elementary school for six years, Helen was assigned to Chestnut Hill College where she remained for 27 years. During her time at the College, she received both her Master’s and Doctoral degree in chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania. Helen’s commitment to science was confirmed by her numerous awards. Clearly, the gifts that she received as both a scientist and a teacher indicate the commitment and energy that she brought to any task she undertook. Her passion for both science and religion guided her life, and, as she once said, both “lead to the truth.” She was a dedicated educator and advocated science teaching and the collaboration between educators and industry.
Helen did not stop with her science credentials. Indeed, she began a second career in finance. She served in the Congregational Finance office and then became the Director of Finance at the Washington Theological Union. In the latter position, Helen served religious communities throughout the country. Now adding an MBA to her credentials, she served many by teaching, designing programs, troubleshooting, and being an overall support person to many responsible for their own congregations’ finances. Helen returned home to work in Information Services at Mount Saint Joseph Convent and once again proved herself invaluable.
Helen’s love and devotion to her family were always apparent. Her nieces and nephews were very special to her. She loved nature and enjoyed going to Peace Valley Park of the National Arboretum. While she was an imposing figure, her colleagues would describe her as “fun” on the job. Her unfulfilled desire was to take her grandnieces to the Elmwood Zoo, where her father took her as a child.
Following God is not for the faint hearted, and Helen’s final years proved that. She lived for several years with a growing awareness of her dementia. Ever the scientist, she sought out a research study for a new drug. Even though she believed she was receiving a placebo, Helen was committed to the scientific process When a Villa staff member asked what she should say to Alzheimer’s conference she was going to attend, Helen said to “tell them not to remember my head, but remember my heart.”
Discipleship toughens the body and the spirit. Helen’s life has taught us that “the result of following God is everlasting life…God has prepared something so much better, eternal paradise, for us to enjoy without end.” Helen, thank you for a life of faith-filled love and may you enjoy all that God has promised.