#RespectYourElders: Sister Rosemary Connelly, 88, is a pioneer for disability rights and has dedicated her life to the service of others. She is the executive director at Misericordia, a nonprofit on the North Side of Chicago that provides a continuum of care for children and adults with developmental disabilities.
Connelly grew up in Chicago. She attended parochial schools and taught in several Archdiocesan schools. Connelly earned a bachelor’s degree in social science and a master’s degree in sociology from St. Louis University. She then received an additional master’s degree in social work from Loyola University. In the summer of 1969, Misericordia appointed her executive director, but it was a challenging time to oversee a home for children with disabilities.
During this period, the disabled community often didn’t receive proper education or quality access to resources. While civil rights activists and feminists fought for equality during the ’60s and ’70s, disability rights activists also had to fight for their own rights.
Connelly discovered that Misericordia only provided services for children with disabilities up to the age of six and that the nonprofit lacked programs that educated or entertained these children. Connelly began advocating for improved services for the children Misericordia served because she knew how critical the early years of a child’s life were for their success later in life.
Before long, Connelly built classrooms, developed programs for self-help skills, speech and physical therapy and added recreational activities. This wasn’t enough for Connelly, who wanted to continue growing Misericordia. When the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago offered 31-acres of land to Misericordia in 1976, she had the opportunity to significantly grow Misericordia’s impact. Today, 600 children and adults with disabilities live in and around this campus.
Thanks to Connelly, who’s known for her impressive fundraising abilities, Misericordia now offers adults homes in nearby neighborhoods, on-campus apartments, skilled nursing for residents, senior housing and more. It provides residents with recreational facilities, space for speech and occupational therapy and even businesses that employ residents.
“Even though we are big, every person is unique to us,” Connelly said in an interview. “When people come and take a tour, they all say they can feel the love here.”
At 88 and with half of a century at Misericordia under her belt, Connelly insists she has no plans to retire.