In memoriam: Sister Kay Burton, SNJM

ROCKFORD, Wa. – Sister Kay was born Frances Catherine (Kay) Burton on Nov. 3, 1936, in Santa Monica, California to Gordon and Marie Burton while Gordon was employed by Douglas Aircraft to work on experimental airplanes. The family moved to Issaquah, Washington, in 1942 when Gordon began work as a government inspector on airplanes in Renton. They lived there for less than a year when the family moved to Rockford, Washington, where Kay had fond memories of living on the Saunders place. In 1948, the family moved to Lake Creek, Idaho, into the farmhouse where Gordon had been raised and that is still standing today.

In 1954, Kay graduated from Rockford High School as Valedictorian. She enrolled in Holy Names College, Spokane, graduating in 1958 with a degree in Education and began her teaching career at Deer Park High School. In January 1960, after a year and a half teaching in public schools, Kay entered the novitiate of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary at Marylhurst, Oregon receiving the religious name Sister Gordon Mary. She pronounced first vows on Feb. 5, 1962.

Sister Kay spent years developing peace-education programs and anti-racism curricula as an inner-city teacher and administrator in Seattle. She traveled to Clarksdale, Mississippi, in 1978 to teach at Immaculate Conception School and earned a M.Ed. in Counseling and Guidance from Western Michigan University in 1979. After returning to Spokane from 1983-87 to assume a leadership role as Provincial Director of her SNJM community, Sister Kay returned to Mississippi. She bought a house which she immediately remodeled into appropriate space for tutoring. She reached out to the Jonestown community to find out what people wanted. As a result, Sister Kay established GED programs, garden projects, softball teams and life skills classes for the people of Jonestown. Music was important to her and became a major emphasis. She encouraged instructors to come to Jonestown to teach music. The result was joyful singing at annual Christmas celebrations and Black history presentations, as well as piano recitals and other wonderful gatherings.

Her successful volunteer recruitment campaigns led to innumerable home repair and Habitat for Humanity projects benefiting the residents of Jonestown. Volunteers created a playground for younger children and helped upgrade basketball, baseball and track facilities. Sister Kay provided enrichment opportunities to the young people of Jonestown by organizing field trips and driving students to meet Sisters and others involved in service work. These ranged from travels to the Native American Community in Wapato, Washington, to Holy Names Convents in Lesotho, Africa.

Sister Kay also helped found The Call to Vietnam Program which sent Sisters of the Holy Names and volunteers to teach English language skills to the young Lovers of the Holy Cross Sisters in Hue, Vietnam.
Sister Kay’s career spanned a lifetime of giving to those in need. Her gifts as a teacher, administrator, volunteer, advocate, innovator, gardener and counselor touched the lives of the thousands of people she served. The people of Jonestown, Mississippi, will never forget Sister Kay and the impact she had during the thirty-plus years of her ministry there.

Sister Kay Burton, SNJM, died March 18, 2022, in Spokane, Washington, at Hospice House of Spokane. There must have been a joyous greeting in Heaven that morning as her mom and dad along with brothers Dick, Bill, Jim, and Ira met Kay on her journey to everlasting life.

Sister Kay is survived her five brothers: John, Tom, Don, Bob and Steve and generations of nieces and nephews who knew and loved their Aunt Kay. Sister Kay is also survived by members of her religious community the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary.

A funeral Mass was held on Saturday, March 26, 2022 at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Rockford, Washington. She is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery.

Memorial gifts may be made to Sisters of the Holy Names Retirement Fund, PO Box 398, Marylhurst, OR, 97036 or online at