Catholic nun who ran Misericordia for decades honored with prestigious award from Notre Dame

Under Sister Rosemary Connelly’s guidance, Misericordia became a benchmark in compassionate care.

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Sister Rosemary Connelly

Sister Rosemary Connelly

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The Catholic nun who for decades headed up Misericordia, the North Side home for people with developmental disabilities, was chosen to be honored with one of the most prestigious awards given to American Catholics.

Sister Rosemary Connelly is set to receive the University of Notre Dame’s 2023 Laetare Medal during an upcoming commencement ceremony at the university.

Connelly came to Misericordia as executive director in 1969 and when she realized it had no educational programming to offer children, some as young as 6, she changed that.

She contacted experts to request their help in developing programs but was told such things didn’t exist. So she created the educational programs and programs for self-help skills, speech, physical therapy and recreational activities.

Connelly also shepherded Misericordia’s move from the South Side to its present 37-acre campus in Rogers Park, where more than 1,200 staff members and thousands of volunteers serve more than 600 children and adult residents.

An outreach program assists more than 140 additional families.

Misericordia is considered a benchmark in compassionate care.

“With her characteristic tenacity, grace and genius, Sister Rosemary has ensured that the residents of Misericordia — as wonderful children of God — have the quality of life and opportunities they deserve,” Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins said in a statement announcing the award. “We are inspired by her vision, her leadership and her compassion and are honored to bestow the Laetare Medal on her.”

Connelly said God spoiled her by surrounding her with people of goodwill.

“I always felt that God was with me, that God really took care of me. He even spoiled me by always making sure the right people were in the right place at the right time,” she said. “And I don’t think that’s accidental. The Lord has been more than gracious to me. So I’m thankful to God that we have a Misericordia. It’s a place where the children are respected and loved and the staff is very committed to them.”

A native Chicagoan, Connelly was one of six children born to Irish immigrant parents.

Now 92, she recently transitioned from executive director to chairwoman of the board of the Misericordia Foundation, which focuses on fundraising efforts.

“What motivates me? I think the fact that I’m surrounded by wonderful people, including the staff and especially the residents here,” Connelly said. “They challenge us to be our best. They’re loving. They live life beautifully. And they can be models for us all.”

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