Hinsdale family helps — and receives help from — Misericordia
Katy Lee of Hinsdale with her daughter Julia
To learn more, including information about the Greenhouse Inn Restaurant, Hearts & Flour Bakery and the Heartstrings Gift Shops, visit misericordia.com or call (773) 973-6300
6300 N. Ridge Ave.
Updated: August 20, 2012 10:37AM
Fifteen-year-old Julia Lee does not talk much. Yet when she has a portable music device in hand, she always sings along to pop tunes.
At home in Hinsdale a few weeks ago, Julia crooned to her family’s dog. The simple gesture was an endearing moment for Katy Lee, whose time with her developmentally disabled daughter is sweet albeit limited.
“We’re just gathering around Julia because the time is pretty precious,” Lee said. “It’s nice to have us all under the same roof.”
Julia has the mental capacity of a toddler. The oldest of Lee’s three children, she was born with a pervasive developmental disorder and exhibits traits similar to autism, though she is social and connects well with others.
“She’s darling,” Lee said. “She can’t figure out how to put pants on but can get any music video she wants on her iTouch.”
But at home Julia doesn’t sleep. She requires, at times, around the clock care.
As the years passed Lee realized and accepted that her family needed help, both for their sake and Julia’s. When Julia turned 10, Lee and her husband moved their daughter into Misericordia Home in Chicago, where she is cared for by professionally trained staff and embraced by a community that believes in her potential.
“You don’t think that anybody could take care of your children as well as you can,” Lee said. “It was the hardest decision I made in my life but it was the best.”
Julia, along with 600 other children and adults who live in Misericordia housing, have a wide network of support, including a group of suburban women dedicated to raising awareness and funds for the nonprofit.
The West Suburban Women’s League, of which Lee is a member, hosts events throughout the year to assist Misericordia in providing individuals with developmental disabilities with resources to maximize their independence and self-determination.
According to Lois Gates, Misericordia’s assistant executive director, the League formed in 1995 after a handful of women gathered 75 friends and took a bus from the suburbs into the city to Heartstrings, Misericordia’s gift store.
Since that first encounter, “they’ve been over the moon in love with Misericordia,” she said. “It’s been such a life-giving endeavor.
“They sing our song.”
The League’s signature benefit evolved over the past 15 years from a “casino night” into a March Madness celebration. This past spring, the event garnered $300,000. Between Candy Day sales, golf outings, bowling tournaments and other fundraising efforts, the League annually contributes nearly $700,000 to Misericordia.
Though the League exists primarily to raise money, members keep the mission — showing the vulnerable their worth — close to heart. They accompany Misericordia residents on special outings, like trips to the zoo, and give gifts during the holidays.
A visit to any one of Misericordia’s homes, shops or restaurants on its 31-acre campus — where disabled people are employed — “is beyond words,” said League President Joan Zajeski.
“They have meaning to their lives and they are contributing citizens,” she said. “There’s no other place like it in the country.”
Misericordia, or “heart of mercy” in Latin, has operated to serve those with mild to profound developmental disabilities, many of whom are also physically challenged, since 1921.
Under the leadership of Sister of Mercy Rosemary Connelly, the organization since 1969 has aimed to create an environment that fosters each individual’s gift, no matter his or her ailment.
For her vision and ability to inspire, the state fair named Connelly an “Illinoisan of the Year.” Gov. Pat Quinn presented the honor and proclaimed Aug. 13 as “Sister Rosemary Connelly Day” throughout the state.
“She calls forth the best from all of us,” said Gates, who has worked alongside Connelly for the past four decades.
Mary Ryan Buddig’s family met Connelly and was introduced to Misericordia’s services following the 1970 birth of her sister Jean Marie, who had Down syndrome and other major health problems.
The Jean Marie Ryan Community Center was named for her.
“Sister Rosemary and the staff were very loving and caring,” said Ryan Buddig, of Hinsdale. “The care that each staff member takes for each individual at Misericordia is unbelievable.”
The Ryan sisters — Mary Ryan Buddig, Eileen Seyfarth, Therese Rooney, and Donna Coffey — have been members of the League for over 16 years.
Their sister-in-laws, Stacy Ryan and Carolyn Ryan, are also members.
“Misericordia has a special place in our family’s heart,” Ryan Buddig said. “I am so humbled by all of the work that is being done at this amazing place.
“The residents who are capable do so much for themselves.”
Lee has seen a positive transformation in Julia since she moved to Misericordia five years ago. Lee said life for her teenager is simple “but nice.”
She is grateful to the Misericordia community of caregivers and donors for providing a comfortable place for Julia to thrive and for becoming her extended family.
“To see these other people who don’t have any direct tie to Misericordia, who give time and love and money into this, it is really overwhelming,” Lee said.
“It’s all happening to help my daughter.”