Founder of Northern Illinois Food Bank dies at age 83

  • Sister Rosemarie Burian at the Northern Illinois Food Bank, in 2013, with Jim Truesdale, the chairman of the food bank's first board of directors.

    Sister Rosemarie Burian at the Northern Illinois Food Bank, in 2013, with Jim Truesdale, the chairman of the food bank's first board of directors. courtesy of Northern Illinois Food Bank

  • Sister Rosemarie Burian in the office of the Bethlehem Center Food Bank in Carol Stream in 1983. Burian founded the food bank, which later became the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

    Sister Rosemarie Burian in the office of the Bethlehem Center Food Bank in Carol Stream in 1983. Burian founded the food bank, which later became the Northern Illinois Food Bank. ourtesy of the Northern Illinois Food Bank

 
 
Updated 9/25/2019 9:22 PM

The idea came to Sister Rosemarie Burian in a flash during a morning meditation: DuPage County needed a food bank to help feed the poor.

It didn't matter that she had no experience organizing such a thing. Burian, who died Sept. 22 at age 83, was determined.

 

"I had no background, but I was going to do it," she recalled years later for an article about the history of the Northern Illinois Food Bank. "If I went to apply for the job now, I wouldn't have hired myself -- I wasn't qualified for this."

She founded Bethlehem Center Food Bank ("Bethlehem" means "house of bread" in Hebrew) at St. Mark Catholic Church in Wheaton in 1982. It moved to Carol Stream in 1983, and made its first distribution that April -- 288 pounds of food to Family Shelter Service of Glen Ellyn.

"It was like bells were ringing … marvelous!" recalled Burian. "We had music playing and a big welcome when agencies came."

She approached business and community leaders to serve the organization.

"There was a tremendous lack of awareness about why food pantries were needed," Burian said. "There was also an attitude toward people in need, and a perception that 'that kind of stuff' doesn't exist here (in DuPage County).'"

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The food bank moved to larger quarters in St. Charles in 1995, and changed its name in 2000. It is now headquartered in Geneva, with sites in Rockford, Park City and Joliet. It helps feed people in 12 northern-Illinois counties, distributing an estimated 66 million pounds of food a year.

Burian left the job as director in 1986, but remained on its Emeritus Board for many years.

"(Sister is) a testament to the will of one person. To step out in courage, just like our neighbors do every day. She not only provided food, but also provided inspiration for people," Julie Yurko, the food bank's president and chief executive officer, said in a news release. "Her legacy is the power of deep caring and love for one's community, and that she loved people and trusted God."

Feeding the soul

Burian took her vows as a Franciscan Sister in 1954. She started as an elementary-school teacher and a Montessori-method teacher. She also worked as a director of religious education at parishes, as a pastoral associate, then as a hospital chaplain.

In 1997 she joined The Center, a spiritual retreat facility at the Immaculata Congregational Home in Bartlett. She began its healing-touch practice, and taught about meditation.

She transferred from the Bartlett Franciscans to the Wheaton Franciscans in 2003. She continued to offer healing touch and spiritual direction, but also pursued solitary contemplation into matters of the soul. She taught seminars and led reading groups and group meditation, according to an obituary posted by the Wheaton Franciscans.

"My calling is to assist in the evolving of consciousness of the planet. I invite people to reflect and understand who they are and why they are on the planet," Burian said.

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