The History of Misericordia: Supporting Those in Need Since 1921

Historical photo of Misericordia South entrance with Mercy nun in full 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 intellectual, 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 intellectual and developmental disabilities—some who also have physical challenges and medical issues—from diverse religious, racial, and socio-economic backgrounds. Through Catholic values and traditions, we strive to be a diverse and inclusive community that embraces those of all faiths as well as those with no religious tradition. All who believe in our mission are welcome into our Community of Believers.

Misericordia has grown substantially since its beginning 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 and a young Lucy in the 1970s


Sister Rosemary: Over 50 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.

Children on bikes riding through the Village streetAdult and group of boys mixing ingredients for their meal together.


The North Campus: A Place to Call Home

Sisters Catherine, Mary Lou and Rosemary outside Construction of Village

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:


Outside of Herbstritt, one of 9 charming neighborhood homes in the VillageThe 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.


Outside of the Shannon apartments from Granville Street

As 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. 


Staff wearing purple and 3 ladies in Marian Center enjoying a card game around tableDuring the past 20 years, as Misericordia has seen an increasing need to support people with more significant intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities, 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.


Outside McGowan residence across the street from the Village

Misericordia welcomed 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.  Holbrook has since been redesigned to meet the needs of Misericordia's aging population in the Graceful Living Program and the residents of Holbrook moved to Quinlan Terrace and McAuley Skilled Nursing Residence.


a woman in purple and a man in red,both in wheelchairs at Rosemary home smiling.One young lady in pink shirt and wheelchair at Connelly home smiling.
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 intellectual and developmental disabilities, and significant physical challenges. The Madden Residence, a beautiful and spacious environment for 20 ambulatory children, also opened in 2001, but was later redesigned for the Personal Effectiveness Program (PEP).  The residents from Madden moved to other residential areas on campus to meet their needs.


5 young ladies relaxing on back porch at Maxwell CILAIn recent years, Misericordia has continued  its innovative residential program by purchasing or building fourteen homes called CILAs (Community Integrated Living Arrangement) in the neighboring community – the Hulseman-Murphy Home, Farrow Home, McAllister Home, Walsh HomeHoulihan Home, Maxwell Home, Eisenberg Home, Moore Home, Rafferty HomeWalsh-Slattery Home, Leland Home, Gerber Hoag Home, Baumgartner Home, and Madden Home. 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.


Two story Mother McAuley residence and lamp post on summer day.

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, 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.


Corboy Gardens with fountain, statue and white benches.

Our Lady of Mercy Chapel, the Jean Marie Ryan Community Center, and the All-Faith Room, connected by the Benefactors’ 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 Benefactor Hall Interior with grand piano, stain glass and white floor and ceiling.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 Home are all ranch style homes in a setting named Mercy Glen.

Outside Coleman ranch style home in Mercy GlenOutside Conrad ranch style home in Mercy GlenOutside McNerney ranch style home in Mercy GlenOutside Peterman ranch style home  in Mercy Glen


Two story Hartemayer Home with blue door and shutters, one of four in Quinlan TerraceIn Spring 2016, 60 of our aging residents moved into the four new on-campus Quinlan Terrace Homes.  The Carr Home, Hartemayer Home, Kaperl Home and Walsh Home were specially designed to address the evolving nursing, therapy and healthcare needs of residents with dementia and other age-related conditions.  These homes meet a growing need to care for an aging population with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and serve as a model for other organizations.


Besser_HomeBesser Friendship Home which offers a first of its kind residential option for up to 15 men and women who are challenged with autism as well as intellectual and developmental disabilities opened in 2023. Each apartment has been thoroughly designed as a smaller home-like environment with additional staff support.  This two-story building includes four apartment wings with single bedrooms and common living areas.


Meaningful Lives Every Day

4 pictures of residents and staff leading Meaningful Lives

Misericordia believes that people with intellectual and 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.

Customer being served by resident waitress Jill in Green House Inn restaurant


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.


Young man in bright yellow life jacket and staff enjoying Hydrotherapy Pool

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

staff and Matt in red life jacket enjoying pool in fitness centerPeople 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.

Staff showing peace sign and three men dressed in blue at Cub's of men and women playing billiards in Coleman social center


Misericordia Heartzingers dressed in red performing at a White Sox game.


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


Beautiful little boy with hearing aid, dressed in brown and smiling broadly in Outreach program

Outreach Programs

Eighteen adults from the surrounding community attend day training programs at Misericordia.  Programs 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 (up to $34 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 intellectual and 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.