Old Students of the St Thomas Aquinas Senior High School in Accra, popularly known as ‘Old Toms’ has appreciated Reverend Sister Claudette Burkel, a Catholic Sister and a former teacher of their Alma mater, on her 89th birthday.
The old Toms took turns to share their stories and how Sister Claudette as they affectionately called her, opened her home to them and supported them with food, books and above all stood in as a “parent” for most of them in times of trouble.
“Those of us Students of ST Aquinas school who lived at Nima and its environs in the 1980s were virtually staying with her taking our lunch almost everyday at her house and we will never forget that gesture,” they fondly recalled.
Mr Mukesh Zakaria, an old Tom and now management consultant shared an emotional story of how he met Sister Claudette in 1993 when he was at the Borstal Correctional Institute in Accra, during one of her evangelism programmes at the Borstal institute.
“She identified something in me and provided me all that I needed to take part in the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) while at the Borstal institute. when I passed, no school wanted to admit me, but through her instrumentality, I was admitted to the St. Aquinas School”.
He said throughout his stay in the school, Sister Claudette stood in as a parent and defended him at all times adding, “coming from a Borstal Institute, you know the perceptions people hold about us, but she had absolute confidence in me, my books, fees and food were all sorted out by her, today I stand here with a double master’s degree, I, therefore, owe you gratitude and am happy you are alive”.
The old Toms recalled her daily engagement with them and her divine counseling and direction which had brought them this far, adding, “one of the fond memories we have about Sister Claudette is that after the usual counselling section with us, she will say a pray for your future and a good wife because a bad marriage can mar your life.”
At 89, Sister Claudette’s memory is very sharp as she could recognize all the old boys who visited her and was able to mention their names with such ease to the admiration of all, they were told that she baked her birthday cake shared for the old students.
Reverend Monsignor Bobby Benson, Founder and Director of the Mathew 25 House, an HIV and AIDS care Centre, an old Tom himself, described Sister Claudette as a living testimony who impacted many live and did not want to wait to read tributes at her funeral.
He said every student of St. Aquinas during her days had a story to tell. “She dotted on the lives of all of us, every student at that time was sure of getting gari, sugar, milk and some pastries from Sister Claudette’s house and so her house was an extension of the school”
They presented to her, a cash amount of GH¢10,000, assorted food items and a plaque, which read in part “Seventeen years of instructive guidance, compassion and support, for 17 years you helped shape our lives spiritually and educationally, these are but counting years, you fed those of us who had nothing to eat, you saved some of us from the clutches of drugs and many other vices”
Reverend Sister Claudette arrived in Ghana in 1959 as an SSPS and had rendered 63 years of service to Ghana out of which she spent 18 years as mathematics Teacher at the St Thomas Aquinas Secondary School and others including St Mary’s Secondary School in Accra, she was later transferred to Madonna International school in Koforidua as a school administrator where she retired from active service.
Sister Claudette who received the gifts was full of gratitude and said, “I’m happy to see all of you flourish in life. You are a living advertisement for the school and God and so, never forget it”.
She admonished them to work diligently with every work entrusted in their care and to show love and compassion as service to humanity was service to God.