Kristin Popik Burns, a founding faculty member of Christendom College and former dean of the college’s graduate school, passed away peacefully in her home on Monday, April 1, surrounded by her entire immediate family. Burns, a wife, mother, educator, and dedicated follower of Christ, died in her final battle with cancer. She was 69 years old.
“Kris was a wonderful woman and friend to so many here at Christendom College and its graduate school,” says college president Dr. Timothy O’Donnell. “From the early days of its founding to its expansion with its graduate school Kris has been an inspiration to countless students as professor and dean. Her love of philosophy and the ‘res catolica’ was infectious. She has been an abiding presence for so many years. She will be greatly missed. With hearts filled with love and gratitude we commend her soul to Almighty God and ask His grace and consolation on her husband Mike, their children, Greg, Karen and Ed and all their family. May she rest in peace.”
Born Kristin Popik on March 9, 1950, Burns was the eldest of six children and spent most of her childhood in Arizona. She graduated from the University of Dallas with a BA in philosophy in 1971 before earning her master’s degree in philosophy from Niagara University, where she taught for several years.
While at the University of Dallas, she studied under the late philosopher Frederick Wilhemsen, who introduced her to Triumph Magazine’s Christian Commonwealth Institute, an educational program in Spain. She attended the program and eventually served as an assistant to Dr. Warren H. Carroll, the director of the program, while also teaching for it. Carroll enjoyed his time with Burns so much that he invited her to head the philosophy department for the college he planned to found: Christendom College.
Before the college opened in 1977, Burns received her Ph.D. in philosophy from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) in Rome, the first woman to be so honored. With doctorate in hand, Burns returned to Virginia to accept Carroll’s invitation and teach philosophy at Christendom, also serving as the college’s first dean of women.
Burns stepped aside from her varied roles at the college for a time to get married to Michael Burns and raise a family, still teaching the occasional evening class and eventually joining the faculty of the Notre Dame Institute, a graduate school of theology located in Alexandria, Virginia.
The Notre Dame Institute merged with Christendom College in 1997 and, after then-dean Fr. William Saunders stepped down, the college tapped Burns to lead the school as the dean in 2002. Under her time as dean, the graduate school grew tremendously. New programs were instituted, included the Vita Consecrata Institute, hosted on Christendom’s Front Royal campus during the summers. In 2007, she helped make the graduate school the location of the Permanent Diaconate Program for the Diocese of Arlington as well.
Another outstanding contribution was the creation of an online graduate school for Christendom. Started in 2009, the online graduate school opened up Christendom’s education to a worldwide audience, allowing students to earn an M.A. in Theological Studies completely online.
Burns stepped down as dean of the graduate school in 2016, while still staying on as a philosophy professor. Her love of teaching philosophy remained until her final days.
“Words cannot express what should be expressed in this moment,” says Dr. R.J. Matava, Burns’ successor as dean of the graduate school. “Kris was a talented philosopher, an extraordinary teacher, an outstanding colleague and a dear friend to so many of us. Her impact on those who surrounded her is immeasurable. She seamlessly exemplified in her manner of living the virtues she taught in the classroom. We will miss her energy, her joy, her cheerfulness, her kindness, her candor, her perspicuity, her generosity, and her wisdom. While she has left a space in our hearts, we trust that we have not lost her friendship. We pray for her and hope to see her once again in the fullness of God’s kingdom.”
Burns leaves behind a great legacy of accomplishments in the academic world, but an even richer one as a wife and mother. She is survived by three children and five grandchildren, along with her loving husband, Michael. They married in 1979 and were to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary this December.
Kris Burns will go down in history as being “one woman who made a difference” — a true history maker — by answering Dr. Carroll’s call to give herself to a fledgling educational effort called Christendom College at a time when the idea of a lay founded college was unthinkable. She will be sorely missed.
Eternal rest grant onto her, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.