As editor of the Christ Our Life textbook series, I once lived in Chicago to facilitate reaching the publishing deadline. For two weeks I lived in a convent that was a bus ride away from the publishing house. Then for the remaining eight weeks, Father Flaherty, the Jesuit director of the company, located a place within walking distance: The Shelter of God’s Love. This move introduced me to Rosemary Koenig, the remarkable woman who founded the shelter in a large, empty convent.
When I met Rosemary, she was not even five feet tall, a white-haired woman with sparkling blue eyes and a pug nose. At the shelter this spunky lady formed a community with disabled people who had no other place to live. In some cases, their families had rejected them. I joined a blind woman as well as six older women and girls who were afflicted with diseases like cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, and spinal bifida. The cook, Gina (from Hungary I think) and her daughter, who was about five-years-old, also lived there. Rosemary took me to my room and proudly said, “Cardinal Bernadin slept here when he visited and said Mass for us.”
Because the Blessed Sacrament was still present in the large convent chapel, Rosemary liked to say, “The sisters left, but Jesus stayed.” I doubt that she will ever be canonized (for one thing, the process is expensive), but I’m pretty sure she made it through heaven’s gates.
Rosemary gladly welcomed me to her house, especially because she had just written her autobiography (Only One Set of Footprints) and was hoping for an editor/proofreader. She always believed that God met all her needs. That same year when she wished she had a helper, Katherine, a young, talented woman, appeared on her doorstep saying that she wanted to take a year off work and volunteer at the shelter. Repeatedly God provided for Rosemary by unexpected donations of money and furniture in addition to volunteer services. When the shelter needed an elevator, a fundraiser was held. The amount collected was $8,077, which turned out to be the exact cost of the elevator.
Why did Rosemary found this shelter? When she was married and had four children under ten years of age, her husband walked out! Rosemary was devastated but survived because of the kindness of her parents and the financial assistance of her brother-in-law, Monsignor Koenig. She went to work at schools, drove for the Red Cross, and participated in the Person to Person Volunteers at her parish, helping families, shut-ins, and the elderly.
Once Rosemary’s children were grown and she retired, she decided to pass on kindness by helping those in need, namely homeless disabled persons. Although she was elderly and had very little revenue, doggedly she jumped through the hoops required for starting her nonprofit venture. She also went in search of a building. After several rejections, she met a pastor who agreed to lease his empty convent at St. Andrew Parish for a year. She explained, “God led me to a priest who was as crazy as I was.”
Each evening after supper her little community stayed at the table and prayed intercessory prayer for the intentions that people had placed in the Infant’s crib in the room. Occasionally a priest celebrated Mass, and once while I was there, a priest conducted a Bible study. Each year the shelter gave a Christmas party for the children at St. Andrew School.
Rosemary published a newsletter and held a yearly fundraiser to garner income for the shelter. Her charismatic personality won her many friends. After I left, I received her newsletters as well as personal letters that kept me informed about my friends in the Shelter. Rosemary’s other project was to send me personal letters from Our Lord signed, “Your dearest friend, Jesus.”
Despite being a senior citizen herself, Rosemary went on to open a second Shelter of God’s Love. This house was for older people who used up their income on their children and had no place to live.
Rosemary died in 2005 at the age of 92. RIP.
I’m sure other hidden saints like Rosemary have stepped into your life, perhaps your parents, grandparents, friends. You might take some time to think about them today and thank God for the grace to know them.
• Have you met someone you would you consider a saint? Why?