Legendary football coach Mike Ditka is joining the Chicago Tribune, UChicago Medicine and Misericordia Heart of Mercy to raise awareness about the need for increased funding to support care for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities and to expand neuroscience research into the causes of epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease and other disorders affecting the brain.
For more than 35 years, Ditka has been a loyal friend and supporter of Misericordia and its residents, including Terry M., known around the campus as the “Mayor of Misericordia.” "The residents of Misericordia have an opportunity to live an extraordinary life," Ditka said. "And the care and love they get is unbelievable."
Life at Misericordia
Discover how Misericordia works to foster a compassionate community where people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are encouraged to work, play and live life to its fullest.
Mike Ditka and Friends
When legendary Chicago football coach Mike Ditka met Sister Rosemary Connelly in 1982, his life was forever altered. Connelly, a Catholic Sister of Mercy, is the executive director of Misericordia, a residential care facility for more than 600 children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She invited Ditka to tour Misericordia’s campus, and what he saw inspired his longtime loyal support and friendship. During a recent visit, Ditka spent time visiting with Misericordia residents, including twins Paul P., left, and Patrick P.Donate Now
Harvesting a Dinner Salad
In Greco Gardens, residents work with master gardener Sharon Metzger to grow flowers, plants and vegetables through both an extensive hydroponic indoor growing system and an outdoor garden. Residents take most of the food back to their homes to enjoy with meals. They also grow zucchini for bread made in the Hearts & Flour Bakery and flowers sold in the Heartstrings Gift Shop. The 65 residents who work at Greco Gardens are involved in the entire growth cycle, as the plant goes from seed to salad or sale. “They enjoy seeing their hard work turn into something,” says Bobby Davis Jr., a Direct Support Professional.Donate Now
Creativity on Display
About 100 residents work in the Art Department, where they create ceramics, paintings, self-portraits and more. Some of the colorful pieces brighten buildings and hallways throughout the campus. The artists are paid for their work, with commissions coming from art sold in the Heartstrings Gift Shop and artwork auctioned off at some of the many events benefiting Misericordia. One of Misericordia’s signature fundraising events, The Artist in All, is held each spring at the Art Institute of Chicago.Donate Now
Reviving Memory with Music
The Graceful Living program in the Holbrook Center serves older residents who are starting to show signs of memory loss, withdrawing or slowing down, or who have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. High-energy programming aims to keep them active and connected physically, mentally, socially and spiritually. Director Victoria Young incorporates music and cultural imagery from the decades that resonate the most with residents. “We do a lot of music because it helps with language skills and brings back memories of their lives,” she says. Resident Heidi B. is singing a karaoke “Footloose” from the 1980s.Donate Now
Serving the Community
Resident Anne P. helps prepare some of the dishes for serving at the Greenhouse Inn, Misericordia’s on-campus restaurant. The restaurant is open to the public Tuesday to Friday for lunch and Sunday for brunch. Some days, visitors arrive by the busload to enjoy the hot buffet, salad bar and homemade sweets. Residents help prepare drinks, serve desserts, fill ketchup bottles and restock the buffet. “Working here makes our residents feel so independent, and they often take the skills they learn here out into in the community,” says Lily Devey, who has managed the Greenhouse Inn for 21 years.Donate Now
Toddler Natalie C. gazes at physical therapist Rich Conti as he helps her exercise to stretch her muscles at the Mother Catherine McAuley Residence — a skilled nursing facility that offers a warm and nurturing environment for children and adults with profound disabilities and complex medical issues. The facility features classrooms, playrooms, a hydrotherapy area and a high-tech sensory room designed to engage residents with light, sound, music, touch and aromatherapy.Donate Now
Care, Compassion, Community
Located on a beautiful 31-acre campus on Chicago’s North Side, Misericordia offers a community of care that maximizes potential for persons with mild to profound intellectual and developmental disabilities, many of whom are also physically challenged. Through a spectrum of residential options on campus and in the community, and with a wide variety of programs, Misericordia aspires for each individual to live as independently as possible in the highest level of community integration feasible. Misericordia serves children and adults from diverse racial, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds.Donate Now
Misericordia residents work out, relax and recuperate in the Moore Aquatic and Fitness Center pool. They enjoy the warm, soothing water and the interaction with aides who provide personal attention and encouragement. On the other side of the facility, residents work on fitness goals in a room filled with treadmills, exercise bikes and weight machines. “I love actively engaging with the residents and helping them reach their goals,” says MaryAnn Zielke-Allen, Supervisor of Pool and Fitness, who has been at Misericordia for more than 12 years.Donate Now
Back Home After a Busy Day
After his afternoon shift seating guests in the Greenhouse Inn — and tempting them with the dessert cart — Ryan J. relaxes with his computer in the apartment he shares with four men in the Shannon Apartments on Misericordia’s campus. Like a typical bedroom, his space is adorned with some of his favorite things, including family photos from vacations and pennants from his siblings’ colleges.Donate Now