They called her "Lady Fordham."
Sister Monica Kevin spent nearly a half-century at Fordham University, the Catholic university in the Bronx. Over her many years in education, she broke barriers.
She was the first woman — and certainly the first nun — to head the Faculty Senate. And she was the first woman to serve on the Athletic Advisory Board.
Kevin, who belonged to the Blue Point-based Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk, headed both the biology department and the summer school at times in her career.
Her time at Fordham began in 1937, as a student. She earned all three of her degrees from the school — bachelor's, master's and doctorate.
In so many aspects of her life, Kevin was a positive force, said those who knew her.
"Fordham has lost a giant in Sister Monica Kevin," said the Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the university. "She was a scientist of great faith, a teacher of great wisdom and a friend of great compassion.”
Kevin died March 24 at the age of 99 at the Maria Regina nursing home operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood. She had retired from Fordham in her 90s; then, she went on to counsel other retired faculty members.
“I don’t know of anybody who loves Fordham more than she did … because she was just so imbued with a love and the spirit of the place,” said Sister Judith Kubicki, a theology professor at the university who came up with the nickname “Lady Fordham.”
Kevin had an auspicious start to her ministry as a nun. At 15, she boarded a ship in her homeland of Ireland to join the Ursuline Sisters in the United States, said Sister Mairead M. Barrett, a member of the order.
She was so young that she attended Bayport Blue Point High School, Barrett said. Kevin moved on to Fordham, where she earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics in 1948. For nearly 20 years, she taught in elementary schools run by the Ursulines in New York and Connecticut.
In 1961, Kevin earned a master’s degree in biology; she received a doctorate in 1964. Afterward. she taught at St. John’s University for three years before joining the Fordham faculty in 1967 to teach biology. She became a Fordham fixture, working in various roles until 2013.
On the Bronx campus, Kevin seemed to be everywhere — and involved with everything, the Rev. Patrick J. Ryan, a Fordham religion professor, said at her funeral Mass at Our Lady of the Snow Roman Catholic Church in Blue Point.
“She taught biology, she presided over the Faculty Senate, she championed Fordham’s men’s basketball team, she led the summer school as dean, she organized the retired faculty, she did the altar linens at Spellman Hall, she baked Irish soda bread and heavenly scones, he said.”
Kevin's work in biology was notable, said Ryan, who called her “a good teacher and an acute scientist.”
Her research explaining the relative independence of a human embryo was considered important from the anti-abortion perspective in the abortion debate, her order said.
Kevin's students remained her focus throughout her career at Fordham, Barrett said. “She took all of her students to heart,” she said. “She was really a professor par excellence.”
Kevin refused to slow down even as she reached her 90s, Kubicki said.
“I don’t think she understood what pacing yourself meant,” Kubicki said. “When she was in her 90s, she was still running around like she was in her 60s or 70s.”
She knew how to knit and crochet, and organized groups of students to teach them the crafts, Kubicki said.
“She was a Renaissance woman,” she said. “She was a marvelous person. Intelligent, full of energy, always interested in doing new things.”