|Sister Rosemary Connelly (Photo for the Sun-Times by Pat Nabong)|
“The day I walked into Misericordia, I really felt God’s presence, and wasn’t afraid,” said Sister Rosemary Connelly, 90, lunch untouched as we caught up at the venerable Chicago institution — 100 years old this year — where some 600 people with developmental challenges live and work.
That was in 1969, when Misericordia was still on 47th Street. I wondered: why did the archdiocese pick her?
“I don’t know,” Sister Rosemary said. “That’s 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’ve been visiting Misericordia since 1994, more than half her tenure. It’s a good story. When I read last week that Sister Rosemary is shifting her duties, now heading Misericordia’s new foundation, a role that “will likely involve public relations work,” I couldn’t help tamping down a smile and phoning her up to point out that PR involves taking media jackals to lunch. She could start with me.
“It has been,” she said. “Our kids have been wonderful. For a while they couldn’t go home, the ones able to go home. The staff just made it so pleasant for them. It’s been wonderful.”
Notice that pivot Sister Rosemary does: always away from herself, toward others. Always grateful, never complaining, not that I didn’t try to draw complaint out.
But how about her?
”l thought it wouldn’t last this long,” she began, deflecting the question like a matador. “They’re wonderful, the residents. Neil, they have been unbelievable. Because of the staff. They’ve stepped up. They’re extraordinary.”
They’re also in short supply. Misericordia usually has 1,200 employees augmented by two dozen daily volunteers. Now they’re 100 staffers down, and the volunteers have to stay away.
“It’s been hard on our kids, not having volunteers around,” she said.
Projects have been on hold. Their 14th and 15th independent group homes — one on campus, one in Evanston — should have opened by now. By March, Misericordia will open a drive-thru bakery, and if you take away one thing from today, it should be the name “Hearts and Flour Bakery.” Started to impart vocational skills, it grew into a humming commercial establishment that’ll mail 10,000 packages this month. I’ve sent their products to my mother, my sister, friends. Fantastic. The heart-shaped brownies. I can’t recommend it enough.
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