WEST RIDGE — Misericordia is getting a new chief executive for the first time in more than 50 years, as the Catholic nonprofit’s leader, Sister Rosemary Connelly, moves into a new role.
Connelly is stepping down as executive director, organization officials announced last week. She will instead serve as the chairman of the newly created Misericordia Foundation, which will lead fundraising efforts for the charity, which serves people with developmental disabilities.
The leadership change caps a 52-year run for Connelly, a much-celebrated leader who helped lead a revolution in the care for people with disabilities and who turned Misericordia into a powerhouse charity and institution.
“It has been an honor to serve as executive director for the past 52 years, and I thank the Lord for giving me the good health and strength to serve in this important capacity,” Connelly said in a letter to Misericordia staff. “Together we have made a difference, and Misericordia looks forward to the next 100 years of making a difference for our deserving population whom we are privileged to serve.”
Father Jack Clair, the organization’s longtime associate executive director, will be Misericordia’s new executive director, according to the group.
Connelly, 90, is credited with improving the level of care given to people with developmental disabilities. Rather than being content providing housing and daily essentials, Connelly helped enrich the lives of Misericordia’s patients, revelers and city officials said at her 50th anniversary celebration in 2019.
The organization was still on the South Side when Connelly came to Misericordia in 1969. She began to fill a need for Misericordia’s clients, building classrooms for kids and developing programs, including self-help lessons, speech classes, physical therapy and recreational activities.
Connelly helped move the organization to its sprawling West Ridge campus at 6300 N. Ridge Ave. in the 1970s.
In West Ridge, Misericordia provides clients not only with housing but also opportunities for jobs, education and enrichment. Misericordia opened the Hearts and Flour Bakery in 1990, giving its clients job opportunities and turning the bakery’s cookies into a fundraising tool.
“My purpose was to make their days more human and more loving and more normal,” Connelly previously told Block Club.
Misericordia is also opening a bakery and coffee shop at 6130 N. Ravenswood Ave., expanding employment opportunities for its clients.
In recent years, Connelly led Misericordia’s recent expansion, as the nonprofit earlier this year got the city’s OK to build 16 group homes in West Ridge.
On top of Connelly’s chief executive role, she served as Misericordia’s public face and head fundraiser. Prolific fundraisers like former Mayor Rahm Emanuel have marveled at Connelly’s fundraising and political prowess.
“People think I’m a hard fundraiser, but I learned it right there,” Emanuel said at a 2011 fundraiser for Misericordia.
Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of the Chicago Archdiocese, said in a letter to Connelly that her leadership has left Misericordia “stronger than ever.”
“Through this ministry, you have celebrated and lifted up the dignity and beauty of each life,” Cupich wrote. “You have modeled not only acceptance and a commitment to educate and nourish each of God’s children, but a true love for all and the joy found in service.”
Connelly’s move coincides with a shift in the organization. All of the charity’s fundraising efforts will move to the Misericordia Foundation beginning next year. Connelly will serve as chairman of the fundraising entity, while Lois Gates will serve as executive director.
Spinning off the fundraising arm is common among charities, especially those in the nonprofit healthcare sector, Misericordia leades said in a statement.
At the party celebrating Connelly’s 50 years with Misericordia, she said she had begun thinking about what the charity will look like after she is no longer executive director.
Misericordia is larger and more influential than ever. But the heart of the operation comes from care and compassion for all of its clients and neighbors, she said.
“We are large and we are big, but we are quality,” she said. “I hope that never changes.”
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