PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Sister Rosemary Connelly, a lifelong advocate for individuals with developmental disabilities, will receive the 2023 Laetare Medal from the University of Notre Dame, one of the oldest and most prestigious honors given to American Catholics.
Sister Rosemary, 92, is chairwoman of the board of the Misericordia Foundation, a nonprofit organization on Chicago’s South Side that provides home and custodial care to children with disabilities from birth to age 6.
She joined the organization as executive director in 1969. Through her leadership, the organization has grown to serve more than 600 children and adult residents and more than 140 additional families.
For her work, Sister Rosemary has received nine honorary degrees — including one from Notre Dame in 1997. She has also received the Order of Lincoln Medallion, Illinois’ highest award for lifelong achievements; the Illinois Entrepreneur of the Year Award from Ernst and Young; and a Caring Institute award, naming her one of the most caring people in America.
“With her characteristic tenacity, grace, and genius, Sister Rosemary has ensured that residents of Misericordia — as wonderful children of God — have the quality of life and opportunities they deserve,” said Father John Jenkins, the president of Notre Dame.
“We are inspired by her leadership and her compassion and are honored to bestow the Laetare Medal on her,” Father Jenkins said.
Sister Rosemary is a native Chicagoan, one of six children born to Irish immigrant parents. She joined the Sisters of Mercy at age 19 and taught in the Archdiocese of Chicago school system while pursuing her own education.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in social science from Saint Xavier University in 1959, a master’s in sociology from St. Louis University in 1966, and a master’s in social work from Loyola University Chicago in 1969.
She credited God’s presence for her success.
“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,” Sister Rosemary 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.”
As for her motivation to continue her work, she said it has everything to do with the people by whom she’s surrounded.
“What motivates me? I think the fact that I’m surrounded by wonderful people, including the staff and especially the residents here,” Sister Rosemary said. “They challenge us to be our best. They’re loving. They live life beautifully. And they can be models for us all.”
The Laetare Medal is announced each year on the fourth Sunday of Lent, known as Laetare Sunday, and dates back to 1883. Notre Dame established the award as an American counterpart of the Golden Rose, a papal honor that goes back to the 11th century.
Previous recipients of the award include President Joe Biden, President John F. Kennedy, Dorothy Day, former Speaker of the House John Boehner, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Sister Norma Pimentel, and Hollywood actor Martin Sheen. Last year’s recipient was environmental activist Sharon Lavigne.
The Laetare Medal bears the Latin inscription “Magna est veritas et praevalebit” (“Truth it is mighty, and it shall prevail”). Every year the award goes to a Catholic “whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church, and enriched the heritage of humanity.”
Sister Rosemary will receive the 2023 Laetare Medal at the university’s commencement ceremony in May.