Empowering Communities, Celebrating Minnesota Locally

Gemma “Phyllis” Marie Hessian

Gemma “Phyllis” Marie Hessian died peacefully April 19, 2024, at the age of 96.

Gemma was born on August 27, 1927, in Belle Plaine, MN, the daughter of Urban and Mabel Hessian. Her childhood was spent on the family farm where she kept busy with farm chores, school, church and Girl Scouts. She graduated from Belle Plaine High School in 1945. After graduation she joined the Cadet Nurse Program, a federal project to provide nurses during WWII. She moved to New York City in 1947 to work with the NY Visiting Nurse Service. In 1948, Phyllis Hessian entered the convent of Dominican Sisters of the Sick Poor (DSSP) whose mission was to care for the sick in their homes in the Bronx. She chose the name Gemma after St. Gemma Galgani, the patroness of doctors, nurses, and pharmacists.

Gemma loved her work and had a deep affection for the poor she served. She enrolled at Columbia University’s School of Public Health obtaining a Bachelor or Nursing Degree and eventually a Master’s Degree in Public Health and Hospital Administration. The DSSP were asked to take over Calvary Hospital in Manhattan and Gemma became the Hospital Administrator.

In 1972 Gemma was elected Major Superior of the DSSP for a four-year-term. She left the DSSP in 1976 and continued her health care career in New York. She eventually moved home to Minnesota in 1984 to enjoy time with family and friends. Gemma worked until she was 78.

Gemma was blessed with a sense of wonder and adventure to the end. She enjoyed music, theater, going up north with family every summer, and time with friends. At the age of 80 she joined family members on a service trip to Guatemala where she could be seen hopping in the back of a pick-up truck, driving up mountains, and laying cement to help build a new home for a family. Enjoying the newspaper and working the crossword puzzle also marked her daily routine.

Gemma lived her life with unending joy and gratitude. Hers was a life of service, humility, and devotion,
always with a smile on her face. She was an example to many and will be greatly missed.

Gemma is survived by her brother, Fr. Roger Hessian, beloved nieces and nephews Jay (Lori) Hessian, Dave Hessian, Paula (Bob) Dinndorf, Mary (Rick) DesLauriers, Joan Hessian, Amy (Mike) Ammann, many great nieces and nephews and their children, countless relatives, friends, co-workers, and patients she served throughout her career. She is preceded in death by her parents, brother James (Rita) Hessian, sister Georgia Ann Hessian, and nephew Jay Hessian.

A special thank you to her devoted friend and cousin, Roseanne Halloran, and all her friends and caregivers at York Gardens.

Mass of Christian Burial will be held on Friday, April 26 th at 10:30a.m. at Our Lady of the Prairie Catholic Church in Belle Plaine, MN. Visitation before Mass at 9:00a.m. at the church. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be directed to St. Catherine University, Marguerite Hessian Nursing Endowed Scholarship Fund.