by SUE SECONI
The seat that Betty Bourke occupied for years in her parish church, Holy Family, Wanganui, is now vacant. Her life’s work for Church and community ended unexpectedly on Saturday December 7. Mrs Bourke was 91.
Known as an organised, gutsy, natural leader, a role model, a compassionate woman, her abilities saw her achieve
the best outcomes for all, by not only speaking up for what she believed in, but also challenging institutional establishments.
Mrs Bourke was born in Melbourne and, becoming a war bride, later moved with her husband Kevin (deceased) to
South Taranaki to run the family owned and hugely popular Kakaramea Hotel in Patea.
Raising a family of four, her involvement in health started when she was elected onto the Patea Hospital Board in
1962. When that board amalgamated with Wanganui Hospital she became Patea’s representative, and later chairperson of the board.
In an era of turmoil within the Health Ministry in the 1980s, Mrs Bourke, as chairperson for several terms, steered
the change from being a hospital board to the Wanganui Area Health Board.
In recognition of her efforts in health administration and community service, Mrs Bourke was awarded the QSM in 1977 and the CBE in 1988. She said at the time that no one achieves anything on their own, particularly in health.
She played a key part in developing the regional hospice service in 1981, and Christian Social Services. She served
as president of the St Vincent de Paul Society.
In 1981 Pope St John Paul II made her a Papal Dame of the Order of St Gregory the Great. She had served on the then
Wellington Archdiocesan Pastoral Council set up by Cardinal Delargey, where she met then Fr Peter Cullinane.
Emeritus Bishop Peter Cullinane said: “When the new diocese of Palmerston North was established, she was a natural
candidate for a leadership position. She chaired both the first diocesan pastoral council and justice of the peace commissions.”
Mrs Bourke always said that her faith was the source of all her achievements.
But her disappointment at the introduction of the new translation of the Mass was obvious, asking in 2011, where was the inclusive language?
Her requiem Mass was celebrated by Emeritus Bishop Owen Dolan of Palmerston North.