Misericordia's Executive Director Celebrates 50 Years — And At 88 Years Old, Shows No Signs Of Slowing Down

Steve Miller
August 23, 2019 - 5:04 pm

(Steve Miller/WBBM)

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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- The executive director of Misericordia is marking a milestone: 50 years as leader of the Rogers Park-based home for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

"I went into the Sisters of Mercy when I was 18 years old — 70 years ago," said Sister Rosemary Connelly. "So, I like to think that 70 plus 18 equals 49."

Connelly, who is 88 now, remembers the first day she started at Misericordia in 1969. She was a young Sister of Mercy at the center, also called Heart of Mercy.

"I had no experience, which was surprising that I was appointed to be the administrator because I had no experience in administration or in fundraising or in special education," she said.

But by all accounts, Connelly has made Misericordia a national model for care and work opportunities. It currently serves 600 children and adults residentially on its 31-acre Chicago campus. 

"People refer to me as a visionary and as a dreamer," she said. "I don't feel that way at all."

Instead, she calls herself a woman of faith.

"I believe in God's work. I also believe in great common sense and I wouldn't be afraid to take it on," she said.

Sister Connelly said there have been challenges during her 50 years.

"We have a deficit that has risen to $20 million a year — the difference between what the government pays us and what it costs us to operate...  And we also have hundreds of people on a waiting list."

The photos on Sunday's celebration invite shows Sister Rosemary Connelly when she started at Heart of Mercy. The second photo shows her with a young patient and the last photo shows Connelly with the same patient as an adult. (Steve Miller/WBBM)

She said her own faith has never been tested. 

"There are some times I'm disappointed, that God didn't answer my prayers the way I thought God should answer my prayers," she said. "But my faith is strong."

This Sunday, Sister Rosemary Connelly will be honored at the Hilton Chicago with a celebration of her 50 years leading Misericordia. Connelly will also be celebrating at Misericordia's 39th annual Family Festival on Sunday, Sept. 8.

Afte all these years, Connelly thinks about the idea of retirement simply. It's not time yet, she said.

"My retirement plans are in the Lord's hands," she said. "I still think I have a role to play."