The History of Misericordia: Supporting Those in Need Since 1921

Misericordia South with Mercy Nun in habit

Misericordia has a rich history of meeting pressing issues of the times. In 1921, Misericordia first opened its doors as a maternity hospital for women of meager means, both married and unwed, at 2916 West 47th Street in Chicago. A little more than 30 years later in 1954, Misericordia recognized an even greater need in society—helping young children with developmental and physical disabilities. From this humble yet noble beginning grew Misericordia as it is known today.

Today, Misericordia supports more than 600 children and adults with developmental disabilities—some who also have physical challenges and medical issues—from diverse religious, racial, and socio-economic backgrounds. Misericordia has grown substantially during the past eight decades and now does three things well: it provides exceptional programs for its residents, gives peace of mind to residents’ families, and shares its mission with thousands of volunteers and supporters.


Sister Rosemary: 40 Years of Leadership and Compassion

In August of 1969 a young Sister of Mercy named Rosemary Connelly first walked through Misericordia’s doors—marking a significant moment in the organization’s history. During her initial days, Sister Rosemary noticed that her colleagues genuinely cared about the children, but there were no challenges or goals for them. Many of these children were growing out of their baby years, and their emotional, psychological and educational needs were quickly changing.

Determined to create an environment that would be open to the gifts and abilities of these children, Sister Rosemary contacted experts in government and academia to request their help in developing programs and services. At every turn, Sister Rosemary was told that there were no programs for children with developmental disabilities and she should take the initiative to create them. And that she did. Soon, Sister Rosemary had built classrooms for primary education and developed programs for self-help skills, speech and physical therapy, and recreational activities.


The North Campus: A Place to Call Home


In 1976 Angel Guardian Orphanage, which had served Chicago for dozens of years, announced it would cease operations at its 31-acre campus at 6300 North Ridge Avenue in Chicago. At the same time Sister Rosemary was looking for a home for ambulatory children who did not require the skilled nursing services provided at Misericordia.  She wanted a home-like setting where they could grow in independence.  The Archdiocese generously offered a portion of the campus with the understanding that any new construction and all operations would be the responsibility of Misericordia.

Since that day in the mid-1970s when Sister Rosemary and 39 children moved to the North Campus, Misericordia has grown and welcomed many more children and adults to its family. Believing that the home is the heart of a family, Misericordia reached numerous and ambitious goals in residential construction, both on the campus and in the community at-large, to help each person live as independently as possible. These residences include:


The Heart of Mercy Village, resembling a charming small-town neighborhood within the center of the North Campus, consists of nine houses built in 1983-84. Each house is home to 12 adults with varying degrees of developmental disabilities, and features its own backyard, dining and living rooms, bedrooms, 
bathrooms, and study areas.   The Village offers residents an opportunity to build self-confidence and independence by learning practical living skills.

Shannon_apartmentsAs residents of the Village became more self-sufficient, Misericordia moved to create residential environments that complemented their goals. Fifty-one adults with mild to moderate disabilities live in The Brian and Sue Shannon Apartment Building (opened in 1991), and each day they handle many tasks such as cleaning, cooking and laundry. 

During the past 20 years, as Misericordia has seen an increasing need to support people with more significant mental and physical challenges, residences were built to meet the unique needs of these residents. In the main campus building, 100 adults with severe and profound developmental disabilities enjoy the highly attentive care in 10 separate apartments in The Marian Center, opened in 1988.


Misericordia was able to welcome 83 individuals in the summer of 1998 with the opening of The McGowan Residence, home to 16 adults with physical disabilities, and The Holbrook Residence, a unique environment for residents with profound mental disabilities and adults who are reaching their senior years.
In 2001 two adjoining buildings, The Rosemary/Connelly Homes, were built on campus to meet the special needs of 36 children and young adults with developmental disabilities and significant physical challenges. The Madden Residence, a beautiful and spacious environment for 20 ambulatory children, also opened in 2001.

In recent years, Misericordia has continued  its innovative residential program by purchasing or building seven homes in the neighboring community – the Hulseman-Murphy Home, the Farrow Home, the McAllister Home, the Walsh Home, the Houlihan Home, the Maxwell Home and the Eisenberg Home.  Six adults who are able to function at a higher level, along with live-in staff, enjoy life in these independent settings  Their lives are full because they are able to return to the Misericordia campus for vocational, spiritual, social and recreational programs.


The fall of 2005 was a bittersweet  time, when Misericordia closed the South Side location and opened a state-of-the-art skilled nursing residence for individuals with both profound developmental disabilities and complex medical issues. The Mother Catherine McAuley Residence offers a nurturing environment for people who need specialized care. Aesthetically, the residence is beautiful; paintings created by artists with developmental disabilities grace the walls and the honey-hued wood floors add warmth to the environment. Programs and nursing support are second-to-none, thanks to a spacious therapy center with land-based treatment rooms and hydrotherapy (at right), several classrooms and playrooms, and advanced technologies.


At the same time, the Robert B. Connolly Work Opportunity Program Center and Business Office was built. A full-size commercial laundry on the building’s first floor provides a variety of work opportunities for people who enjoy being challenged and productive.



Our Lady of Mer cy Chapel, the JeanMarie Ryan Community Center, and the All-Faith Room, connected by theBenefactors’ Hall and adjacent to the beautiful Joan Marie Corboy Gardens and Rusty and Evie Wicks Bell Tower, were dedicated in September 2008.  The new facilities are fully accessible and will provide much-needed space for residents, family members and friends to worship, as well as to hold large meetings and special events that afford work opportunities for residents.  

Forty-eight adults who need more intensive support everyday enjoy lives of challenge and support in four beautiful homes that opened on Misericordia’s campus in 2010.  The Coleman Home, John R. Conrad Home, Shirley and Walter McNerny Home and John Paul Peterman Homeare all ranch style homes in a setting named Mercy Glen.


Meaningful Lives Every Day

Misericordia believes that people with developmental disabilities not only have a right to life, but to one worth living. Toward this end, Misericordia has developed extensive programs to support residents’ goals in important aspects of life.



Misericordia strongly believes that each person—with or without a developmental disability—has the right to be productive each day. Employment opportunities and day programs are tailored so that each individual can reach personal goals. Adults with mild to moderate disabilities enjoy employment with companies outside Misericordia and at on-campus jobs, including the Greenhouse Inn Restaurant (open to the public), Hearts & Flour Bakery, horticultural center, recycling team and art studio. Residents with severe and profound disabilities improve daily living skills, such as personal grooming and social interaction, at caring programs during the day.



Many of Misericordia’s residents are able to enjoy a higher quality of life with the benefits of therapy, thanks to facilities made possible through the generous support of the George M. Eisenberg Foundation and the Rice Foundation. At the Health and Therapy Center, residents enjoy state-of-the-art physical, occupational and speech therapy. Hydrotherapy pools and an innovative sensory room provide highly beneficial support for residents.

Health and Wellness

People with developmental disabilities are more prone to obesity and associated ailments, so Misericordia pays special attention to helping residents develop healthy lifestyles. At the Moore Aquatic and Fitness Center, residents are able to swim laps, lift weights, and learn about eating healthful foods every day. 


Social and Recreational Activities

After a hard day’s work, Misericordia’s residents look forward to time to socialize and have some fun. The Coleman Social Center, located in the basement of the Shannon Apartment Building, features a bowling alley, discotheque and big screen TV to be enjoyed by all residents. Outings across Chicago—from Cubs games to museum visits—are also integral to the residents’ lives.


Many adults at Misericordia enjoy participation in The Heartbreakers, a dance troupe, and The Heartzingers, a new singing-and-signing group. Both The Heartbreakers and The Heartzingers perform around Chicagoland, and they have delighted thousands with their spirited routines.



Out reach Programs

Eighteen adults from the surrounding community attend day training programs at Misericordia.  Programs launched during the past year serving children (0-5 years) and tweens (7-14 years) with a wide range of developmental disabilities include: playgroups and recreational activities for the children; Special Olympics for 2-7 year-olds; whole-family activities and social events for parents; informative sessions on topics such as nutrition and navigating state government programs; and respite care for children and adults.

Building for the Future

In addition to securing private dollars for construction projects, Misericordia must raise funds ($15 million annually) to cover operating expenses not paid by the government. In order to provide its exceptional programs and services, Misericordia turns to thousands of friends who share their resources and time. Thanks to the kindness and generosity of so many good people, Misericordia has truly become “home” to children and adults with developmental disabilities. 

We are depending upon the kindness and generosity of friends to help us achieve our goal of becoming less dependent on government funding.  Our residents are very vulnerable and government funding is tenuous at best.  To ensure our ability to provide our services for as long as they are needed, we must build our endowment fund.  Our children and adults are not able to create a good world for themselves but we are fortunate that many good people share our ministry and generously support our efforts.