Mary A. Burgess was born in San Bernardino, California, the daughter of an attorney and justice of the peace, Russell A. Wickizer, and (Wilma) Evelyn Swisher. She spent her early life at Crestline in the San Bernardino Mountains. Later she settled with her parents on a small ranch in Live Oak Canyon near Redlands, California, and graduated from Redlands High School.
After marrying and raising two children, Louise and Richard, she returned to school to obtain her B.A. in history and English literature at California State University, San Bernardino. There she met her second husband, Michael Burgess, whom she married in 1976. She helped establish Borgo Press with him during this same period.