By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald
Photos Courtesy of the Burrell Family
At age 91, Helena Burrell left this world a better place. She lived this Gospel passage from John 15: “That you love and unselfishly seek the best for one another, just as I have loved you.”
“She was a pillar of the parish and was always here,” said St. Katharine Drexel Parish pastor, Msgr. John Cisewski. “She was a very outstanding parishioner who was dedicated to our Family Life Apostolate and a member of the Knights of Peter Claver Ladies’ Auxiliary Court 52 (for more than 25 years).”
Burrell also was a lector, an extraordinary minister of holy Communion who distributed Communion to Catholics at the former Baptist Hospital and was in Holy Ghost’s Marian sodality.
Her “ever-ready smile that exuded warmth” was something Barbara Duhe, a co-lector and Family Life ministry worker, remembered about her.
“The thing that stood out most to me was her ability to listen to people with a heart of love, anticipate their needs and respond with a willingness to help without having to be asked. She was totally unselfish and filled with a love toward her fellowman.”
At the funeral Mass held May 24 at her life-long parish of St. Katharine Drexel (formerly Holy Ghost, where she received all of her sacraments), Deacon Raymond Lewis, who also attended Holy Ghost School, said she was a kind and gentle person who raised her children with love and respect for the church and looked out for the needy.
“She was a person – from the time she started school at Holy Ghost and throughout her life – who was always committed to the Lord. … When she was asked, she would serve,” Lewis said. “She was a Knights of Peter Claver Court 52 member, received the St. Louis Medallion and the Sophie Aramburo Servant/Leader award and was active in the PTA when her children were in school. She was also one of the mothers of Holy Ghost Church, having a prominent part in the doings of the church. They were among the guiding voices of Holy Ghost Church. … She left us with the words that she lived, ‘My peace I leave with you.’”
Long arm of influence
Burrell’s devotion to her Catholic faith, her parish, her late husband of 44 years, Walter, and her four children, seven grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and one great-great granddaughter was noted by many.
“She loved her church,” her cousin Bernice Allen said. “She was a kind, loving person. She was a sister to me. I could ask her a question about anything, and she always had an answer for me. “
“She was a strong example of prayer,” said her son Kenneth Burrell. “We had a good demonstration of what a good Catholic should be. It was something we witnessed throughout our lives. From a very early age, starting with my grandmother (Louvinia), I used to go to 7 a.m. Mass every morning. She would never miss Mass.”
Her community service influenced Burrell’s involvement in the Knights of Peter Claver as a youngster (a junior member at age 7 or 8). He recalled traveling to Houston to the national conference of Junior Knights and Daughters in 1974 and being elected president.
He said her work matra, “You do the best job that you can, and you will be rewarded,” served him well, advancing his way in Orleans Parish Civil District Court for 25 years and currently as deputy secretary of the Louisiana Workforce Commission.
After Holy Ghost Catholic Elementary, Helena Burrell graduated from McDonogh 35 and Xavier University of Louisiana with an education degree. She taught health and physical education at Joseph S. Clark for more than 30 years and was vice president of the UTNO Retired Teachers’ Association.
Kenneth and her eldest son, Walter Burrell, recalled their mother’s legendary influence on others, especially women who became teachers because of her example.
“Her students became her children,” Kenneth Burrell said. “They would love to come by and eat. She would sew clothes for them, make uniforms for majorettes. That sacrifice (for others) was what we saw growing up. When somebody discovered I was related to Mrs. Burrell, a smile would materialize, and they would say kind things like, ‘She was my favorite teacher.’ … She showed she cared. She wasn’t just there to discipline and teach. … She would take the time to go and talk to parents (if a student was unruly or disrespectful). She wanted the parents to get involved – they helped to enforce the rules.”
Long-time friend and St. Katherine Drexel parishioner Linda Becknell spoke of Burrell’s faithfulness to the Ladies Auxiliary, serving on its outreach committee, where she “visited homebound members at Lafon and St. Luke Nursing homes, Chateau de Notre Dame and brought gifts to residents at Harmony Oaks.
“She was a true role model for all court members to follow as a devoted Catholic who was knowledgeable about her faith and was always praying to our Mother of Africa,” Becknell said. “She encouraged us to remember her with the words of ‘friendship, unity and Christian charity.’ … Her legacy will forever live on.”
Christine Bordelon can be reached at email@example.com.