Obituaries: Sister Mary Kevin Bissell

OTTUMWA – Kathryn A. Bissell, known in religion as Sister Mary Kevin, was born November 26, 1926 to George S. and Anna O’Connor Bissell in Wapello County near Ottumwa, Iowa.  She graduated from Ottumwa Heights College in 1945.  She attended St. Ambrose University and graduated with a BA degree from Marycrest College, Davenport, Iowa.

She entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Humility in 1950 and was professed in 1953.  She then began an extensive career of teaching; through several decades she taught all subjects except music, commercial courses and modern languages.   She instructed in all grades from kindergarten through post-doctoral work.  In Iowa schools she taught in Ottumwa, Pleasant Plain, Monroe, Wapello, Centerville, Marshalltown, Des Moines, Dunlap and Neola.  She taught in Sidney and Great Falls, Montana, and in Kotzebue, Alaska.

Sister Kevin attended the University of Iowa, University of Wisconsin, University of Alaska, in College, Alaska, Loyola of Chicago, Virginia State in Norfolk, American University, Washington, DC, and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.  She held undergraduate majors in five fields, two master’s degrees and a doctorate in four fields.

Her final teaching position was at Howard University Graduate School, Washington, DC, where she taught research methodology and served as the Director of Graduate Research.  In the Washington, DC area, she worked extensively as an international development methodologist.

Sister Kevin did community development work among the Eskimo communities for the Diocese of Northern Alaska, working in Fairbanks, Bethel, Point Barrow, Hooper Bay and Kotzebue.  She returned from Alaska to become the Director of Research for the Latin American Bureau of the U.S. Catholic Conference in Davenport, Iowa, moving shortly thereafter to become National Director of Research, Division for Latin America, US Catholic Conference Headquarters in Washington, DC.  With Sister Caridad Inda she designed and presented courses on Vatican II to the women religious of the five dioceses of Southern Mexico.

While working in the Washington DC area from 1975 to 1997, Sister Kevin also designed and implemented large scale international research projects for the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, The Justice and Defense Departments and the Agency for International Development, Department of State, Pacific Consultants, Inc., Ideamatics, Inc. and the Institute for Urban Affairs.  These included international-level development projects in Jamaica, Mauritania, Tanzania, Morocco and in the US such national projects and research as “The Incidence and Prevalence of Vector-Born Diseases in US Migrant Camps,” “The Financial Impact of Third-Party Payment on Drug Costs for HEW,” “ The Data Collection, Storage and Analysis Model for the Department of Energy at its Creation for DOE,” “The Mortality Rates for Military Actions Other than War (MOTWS)” for the Marine Corps, and “The Impact on US Engineering Schools of the Training Needs Generated by the National Rural Potable Water Act” for the US Congress.  She also designed and chaired the International Women in Development Conference in Amsterdam, The Netherlands and designed the International Conference of Women Scientists in Vienna, Austria for the United Nations.

Sister Kevin served as Assistant Commissioner to the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), John Ahearne, also as Assistant to Commissioner James Asselstine.  In addition, she worked in the NRC Research Department in Probabilistic Risk Assessment and was the liaison for Commission-Level Correspondence at the Secretariat of the NRC.  She was awarded the Mary Pinkerton Award, the highest national service award for federally-employed women.

Sister Kevin was a charter member of the Christian Feminists of Washington, DC and served on the Boards of Wider Opportunities for Women and The Housing Counseling Service, Washington Chapters.  She was a long time member of the NOW Board and of the National Coalition of American Nuns, for which she once served as president.  At the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, she also served as President of the NRC Women’s Association.  She was a long-time member of the American Political Science Association, International Studies Association, Women in Development and the PAX Community Organization, a liturgical experimental group of St. Luke’s Parish, McLean, Virginia in the Diocese of Arlington.  She served the PAX community in many leadership roles.

In 1982, with Sister Caridad Inda, she designed and founded The Center for International Resources (CIRIMEX) in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.  CIRIMEX principally provides one-on-one, total immersion Spanish language and culture training for Church and Religious personnel, seminarians, diocesan and order priests, and prelates nationwide and from 26 foreign countries.  Sister Kevin has served as the USA Director from its founding.

Sister Kevin was preceded in death by her parents and three brothers Tim, Marion (Pat) and Ted. She is survived by her sister, Mary Pester of Ottumwa, her long time business partner, Sr. Caridad Inda, ten nieces and nephews, Francia Pester of Ottumwa, Cheryl (Jon) Simplot of Ottumwa, Marti (Jerry) Fuller of Oskaloosa, Michael (Dawn) Bissell of Knoxville, TN, Terri (Ron) Rusek of  Zion, IL, Julie (Mike) Kelso of Des Moines, David (Linda) Bissell of Agency, Kevin (Lisa) Pester of Ottumwa, Trish (John McNulty) Bissell of Crestwood, KY and Chris (Joe) Munley of Ottumwa; a sister-in-law, Joan Bissell; seventeen grand-nieces and nephews and twenty-one great-grand-nieces and nephews, as well as the Sisters and Associates of her religious community.

Visitation will begin at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Reece Funeral Home in Ottumwa.  A Christian Wake Service will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the funeral home followed by a time with the family present until 8 p.m.

Funeral Mass will be 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at St. Mary of the Visitation in Ottumwa with Fr. James Betzen CPPS presiding.  Her body will be cremated following the services.    Inurnment will be in Mt. Olivet Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Congregation of the Humility of Mary, 820 W. Central Park Avenue, Davenport, IA 52804.