Misericordia honors Sister Rosemary for 50 years of helping children

CHICAGO — One woman has dedicated her life's work to helping children with disabilities.

Sister Rosemary Connelly's drive, creativity and willingness to push boundaries has made Misericordia Home what it is today.

Connelly still recalls the early days she began her work at Misericordia.

"The reality at the time was children with disabilities had no programs," she said. "They only had custodial care for them, you know bathing and feeding type of care, but no programs."

It was 1969 when Sister Rosemary was appointed as Misericordia's executive director. At the time, it was home to more than 130 children, many with down syndrome. Sister Rosemary said she was curious why they were kept in their beds even though they weren't sick.

She said she scouted universities and hospitals looking for suitable programs for the children, but after exhausting all avenues she decided Misericordia would need to create programs of their own.

However, establishing programs would prove to be difficult. Lois Gates has worked along with Sister Rosemary for nearly 48 years and witnessed the pushback of what some considered a "radical" idea.

"It was really a battle, with the people that work there," Gates said. "In fact, they did report her at one time, 'she wants them all out of bed and we don't know what to do.'"

Sister Rosemary was undeterred and succeeded. In the mid-1970s, she orchestrated Misericordia's move to a sprawling North Side campus, an abandoned orphanage donated by the archdiocese. She set her sights on renovating and expanding the facility.

Today it is home to 600 residents. She said Miseracordia is a community with a lot to offer.

The impact she's made on Misericordia in 50 years is clear. Numerous awards and pictures adorn the walls of the home. In addition to recreational activities, there are job programs, including a bakery, coffee shop and art studio.

Those around her said it was Sister Rosemary's vision and determination that has changed the lives of so many.

Plus, she’s not done. The 88-year-old said she has a five-year plan for Misericordia, but when she reflects on last 50 years, she said she's in awe.

At the end of August, Sister Rosemary will be honored for her 50 years with Misericordia and 70 years as a Sister of Mercy.

Sister Rosemary Connelly is one of Chicago's Very Own.

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