Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald


For the Baker City Herald

Sister Kay Marie Duncan smiles at the reason she sought a position with Pathway Hospice.

"I needed a job," she says.

They asked her to be volunteer coordinator and chaplain for both offices in Baker City and Ontario.

"From no job I went to four," she says.

This month she retired after 10 years with Pathway.

"A great 10 years," she says.

It was more than just a job - she's spent countless hours visiting and praying with patients diagnosed with a terminal illness.

The concept of hospice is to improve the quality of life for those

facing a terminal diagnosis, with an emphasis on pain control.

"You try to make it quality time," Duncan says.

When she began, she looked at the list of patients.

There were 10 names.

"I knew nine of them," she says.

She smiles as she remembers the patients from the last 10 years, many who became friends.

She says she doesn't feel like she deserved the gratitude they showed her.

"They are so grateful," she says. "It's a vulnerable time in their lives."

Her work in hospice, she says, has been "very special, very blessed."

"I loved it. It's been the best ministry I've done."

A retirement party is planned for Wednesday, Jan. 11, from noon to 3 p.m. at the Baker County Library, 2400 Resort St.

Sister Kay Marie, 75, grew up in Keating, and graduated from Baker City's St. Francis Academy in 1954.

She took her first vows in 1957, and her final vows in 1963.

Her order, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, arrived in Philadelphia in 1855. Sisters arrived in Baker in 1885.

"It was our first mission in the West," she says.

The order's main mission is "to be brothers and sisters to everyone."

"If we try to do that, it doesn't matter what (vocation) we do," she said.

Traditions have changed a bit since she took her vows.

The most obvious: she doesn't wear a habit.

But that was a gradual change. First, they could take in the habit's full sleeves.

"Then the next thing was we could shorten our skirts. Almost everybody out here cut our habits off."

To calf length.

The full veil, which only exposed the face, became smaller.

"We had a little bit of hair come out," she says with a smile. "We did it a piece at a time."

The main changes happened during Vatican II, when Sisters could decide whether or not to wear the habit.

"Some sisters didn't want to change, but others did."

Another change involved names. When Duncan took her vows, she had three names to choose from.

"Mine was Ruth Mary."

Later, sisters could change back to their legal names.

She began as a teacher, first in California and then at St. Charles in Tacoma.

"They'd just built it," she said of the elementary school.

She taught grades 3 and 5, but "mostly sixth, seventh and eighth."

She later taught, and served as principal, in McMinnville and Portland.

(She's still in contact with some of her students, who all knew her as Sister Ruth Mary.)

Duncan moved back to Baker City 22 years ago for two reasons.

The first was to find a job.

The second was to care for her mother, who had health problems.

She worked at the hospital, then St. Elizabeth, before moving to Pathway.

She plans to stay in Baker City for about a year and a half. After that, she will move to St. Anne's Convent in Tacoma, Wash.

When she leaves, it will close a 128-year history of the Sisters of St. Francis in Baker City.

"I wish we had someone else, but we don't," she said.