Sister Patricia Burkard is leaving more than just her position; the head of the Sisters of St. Francis is also leaving a legacy to the Town of Amherst.
Burkard, who has been with the order for the past 43 years, the most recent eight as its general minister, is credited more than anyone else for the new state park that now exists in the town.
And now that Burkard is leaving for a new assignment, town officials and residents alike, say she will be missed. But never forgotten.
"We will always be indebted to Sister Burkard," said Amherst Supervisor Susan J. Grelick. "Sister serves as an example for us all, that the highest form of community service is loving your neighbor as yourself."
Town resident Eileen Torre, who worked closely with Burkard in the effort to preserve the land, said that she was very sad to hear of Burkard's resignation. "I am very sad to see Sister Burkard go," said Torre. "She is a woman with a tremendous heart, and I will miss her dearly."
When the Sisters of St. Francis motherhouse and surrounding land were put up for sale, Burkard heard a lot of offers. "She literally had developers knocking on her door. At one time she was offered as much as $7 million," said Torre.
But Burkard continued to work with the town to ensure that the green space was preserved. Eventually, the town, with help from the state, bought the motherhouse and 100 acres of land it overlooks for $5 million.
"It was a great joy to me and the order when the town purchased the land," Burkard said. "It was great to be ensured that the area would stay green and continue to provide serenity."
The sisters moved in February to a new motherhouse on Reist Street, a hub for spiritual work and leadership. It is a residence for sisters with a health center/infirmary, chapel, library, media center and large community room.
When Burkard leaves her assignment with the Sisters of St. Francis, she will go on a one-year sabbatical that will include taking part in a spiritual renewal program and doing extensive research and study of the Franciscan order at St. Bonaventure University. Burkard doesn't know yet where she'll be reassigned when the sabbatical ends.
But one thing is clear: She is glad the former St. Francis property is available for everyone to enjoy.
"It feels as though I've left some kind of a legacy," said Burkard. "It feels great to know that other people can now enjoy the natural beauty of the property that has been enjoyed by the sisters for so many years."