Katherine Burton (née Kurz), one of the twentieth century’s most prolific Catholic biographers, was born near Cleveland around 1884. 1 After graduating from (Case) Western Reserve University, Burton briefly taught private school. In 1910, she married Harry Payne Burton, a newspaper reporter who later became a magazine editor. Early in her marriage, Burton also worked as a newspaper reporter. Once she had three children, she became a stay-at-home, suburban mother. Burton’s comfortable life was upended in the late 1920s when her husband had a nervous breakdown and left his family. To support herself and her children, she began working as an associate magazine editor, for McCall’s from 1928 to 1930 and for Redbook from 1930 to 1933.
Burton was raised as a nominal Lutheran. When she married, she began attending Episcopal services with her husband. Burton first took an interest in Catholicism after her husband’s breakdown. Drawn several times to the local Catholic parish, Burton experienced great peace inside the sanctuary. On one occasion, she stated that she felt inexplicably sustained by a presence outside of herself, presumably the Real Presence (Next Thing, p. 98). She slowly approached Catholicism, heading first for the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Episcopal Church and then entering the Catholic Church in 1930, moved by the witness of Catholic friends and awed by “the beauty of the Catholic faith” (Next Thing, p. 118).
In 1933, Burton resigned from Redbook and began pursuing a freelance career in earnest. Before her conversion, she had published some poetry and written occasionally for an Episcopal periodical. After her conversion, she published poems, a short story, and monthly columns in the Catholic magazine Sign, essays in Catholic World and Commonweal, forty biographies of notable Catholics and Catholic institutions, a cookbook for feast days, and her own autobiography. In the words of her colleagues at Catholic World, her pen was “indefatigable” (“Our Contributors,” p. 209).