By Jeff Truesdell Sandra Sobieraj Westfall
February 22, 2010 12:00 PM

Sister Rosemary Connelly, 78 Chicago

Sister Rosemary Connelly never forgot how her mentally handicapped nephew Brian was placed in a facility far from home because no services existed nearby. So when the Chicago Archdiocese asked her to run a home for developmentally disabled children in 1969, the first thing she resolved to do: stop shipping kids off to state institutions after age 6. “I decided,” she said, “we’d keep them.”

From that day on Sister Rosemary, the daughter of an Irish pub owner, transformed Misericordia Heart of Mercy (, lobbying the Archdiocese and politicians to fund her vision. Today Misericordia offers a lifetime home to 550 residents, offering art, computer and music classes, and jobs in a restaurant and bakery. David Axelrod, a senior White House adviser, whose daughter Lauren, 28, suffered brain damage from childhood epilepsy and lives there, says, “Her life is very full—every day is a good day.”

No one’s more grateful than Terry Morrissey, 45, born with a genetic disorder and a Misericordia resident from infancy. “I have my mom and dad,” he says, “but this place is family. Sister Rosemary is wonderful.”