“The day I walked into Misericordia I really felt the presence of God and I was not afraid,” said Sister Rosemary Connelly, 90, lunch intact as we gathered at the venerable institution Chicago – 100 years this year – where some 600 people with developmental challenges live and work.
It was in 1969, when Misericordia was still on 47th Street. I asked myself: why did the Archdiocese choose her?
“I don’t know,” Sister Rosemary said. “It has been a mystery. They always had a nurse in charge. And I had a master’s degree in social work and one in sociology. Maybe that’s why. ‘
I have been visiting Misericordia since 1994, more than half of its tenure. It’s a good story. When I read last week that Sister Rosemary was changing her role, now as the head of the new Misericordia foundation, a role that “will likely involve public relations work,” I couldn’t help but smile. and phone him to point out that public relations involves taking the media jackals to lunch. She could start with me.
Has COVID-19 been difficult?
“It was,” she said. “Our children have been wonderful. For a while they couldn’t go home, those who could go home. The staff made it so nice for them. It has been wonderful.
Notice the pivot that Sister Rosemary makes: always away from herself, towards others. Always grateful, never complaining to me, not that I didn’t try to bring out my complaint.
But what about her?
“I thought it wouldn’t last that long,” she began, deflecting the question like a matador. “They are wonderful residents. Neil, they were amazing. Because of the staff. They stepped up. They are amazing.
They are also in short supply. Misericordia generally has 1,200 employees, plus around 20 volunteers on a daily basis. Now there are 100 fewer employees and the volunteers have to stay away.
“It was difficult for our children not to have volunteers around,” she said.
The projects have been put on hold. Their 14th and 15th independent group homes – one on campus, one in Evanston – should have opened already. By March, Misericordia will be opening a drive-through bakery, and if you take one thing away from today, it should be the name “Hearts and Flour Bakery”. Begun to impart professional skills, it has grown into a buzzing business establishment that will ship 10,000 packages this month. I sent their products to my mom, sister, friends. Fantastic. Heart-shaped brownies. I cannot recommend it enough.
Sister Rosemary was worried that our story would make it seem like she’s putting her feet up and nibbling on baked goods. Here she was ready to mention herself.
“We have been blessed and I have been blessed,” she said. “That at my age, I can still be here, write letters and thank people. It’s a privilege, really.
So are you gonna be here forever?
“Maybe it will get too hard physically,” she said. “I need a walker now. But I’m moving around, so it’s great.
Otherwise, she’s there, “until God…” she began, realizing that she might have to explain it to me.
“It’s good to have someone above you who you believe in,” she said. “During that time, I lost five of my family,” including her younger sister, Pat Martin. “I really miss them, but I feel like we’re all on the road. I have the impression that there is a paradise and that they were good people. I believe there is something after this world, really. It gives me confidence. “
There are too many stories to tell: I love the one where, in 1976, they transferred the 39 residents of Misericordia from the South Side campus to the new home at 6300 N. Ridge Ave., then an abandoned orphanage. If you made this move for three dozen children, some with severe disabilities, would you stop along the way to take them all to the Lincoln Park Zoo? Sister Rosemary did.
I asked her if she had seen people change for almost a century.
“I don’t think so,” Sister Rosemary replied. “We have been so blessed here. I am overwhelmed by the goodness of God, through His people. I sit down and am just amazed at how good people are. People seem to be really thankful that there is a place like Misericordia, they can believe in it and get involved. We are so blessed Neil, really. … Misericordia is a beautiful place. I get a lot of credit for this, but it’s because the right people have always been in the right place at the right time. And it is not accidental, in my belief. I really believe it’s the work of God.