Mercy Sister Rosemary Connelly, the former longtime executive director of Misericordia Home and a well-known member of the Chicago community, will receive national recognition for her work with people with developmental disabilities when she receives the University of Notre Dame’s highest honor, the Laetare Medal, during the university’s commencement ceremony on May 19.
The university has awarded the medal since 1883 and it is considered the most prestigious award given to an American Catholic.
Sister Rosemary received an honorary degree from Notre Dame in 1997 and is very familiar to the university’s community, said Holy Cross Father Austin Collins, the university’s vice president for Mission Engagement and Church Affairs, whose office oversees the award process.
“A lot of Notre Dame people have recommended her,” Collins said. “The lady is literally a living saint. She’s very humble. She is well deserving of this award.”
The Laetare Medal is named in honor of Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent, when its recipient is announced each year. “Laetare” is Latin for “rejoice.”
A faculty committee chaired by Collins vets the many nominations for the medal and makes a recommendation to the university president, who chooses the winner.
“People really care about this — alumni and friends of the university,” Collins said.
Other Catholics who received the award include President John F. Kennedy, Dorothy Day, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin and Martin Sheen.
Sister Rosemary is happy to receive the honor, she said.
“I must admit, I do like getting awards because of the fact that I don’t personalize them,” she said. “I accept them in the name of our children and adults and all of the people who make Misericordia the beautiful place that it is. I’m surrounded by the best and they give their all to make sure that every child and person is involved, is taken care of with respect and dignity and I’m just privileged to be one of many.”
The award recognizes the important work the staff and volunteers at Misericordia do every day to care for people with developmental disabilities, she said.
“Misericordia is a place of love and respect, and vulnerable people feel like they are worthwhile and that they are regarded as people who deserve the best and are getting it,” Sister Rosemary said. “And that’s what’s so important.”
Misericordia is home to 600 children and adults with developmental disabilities, most living on a 31-acre campus on Chicago’s North Side. There is a continuum of care, with everything from homes in nearby neighborhoods to skilled nursing for residents with complex medical conditions to senior housing for an aging population. Another 200 people with disabilities participate in Misericordia’s outreach programs.
The organization employs 1,200 people and is funded by a combination of government support and private donations.
In addition to homes, Misericordia has recreational facilities and programs; space for speech, physical and occupational therapy; and businesses that employ residents.
Over 10,000 people turned out for Misericordia Heart of Mercy’s annual Family Fest on Sept. 10 on its campus at 6300 N. Ridge Ave. The event is the agency’s biggest fundraiser and organizers expected to bring in $1 million.
For many years, Mercy Sister Rosemary Connelly, former longtime head of Misericordia Home, wanted a drive-thru bakery where her residents could work and interact with the community.
After 52 years of at the helm of Misericordia Home, Mercy Sister Rosemary Connelly, 90, is taking on a new role. Father Jack Clair, who has ministered at the home for over 20 years, has been named the new president and executive director.