Saturday, September 15, 2012
"There is no greater joy than to see a kid come in homeless, cold, hungry, dirty and then that same kid a few weeks later –cleaned up, smiling and hopeful…I believe that is what Covenant House is all about…one child at a time."
--Sr. Mary Rose McGeady
In a world in which the fullness of one's life is so often measured by material wealth, celebrity, and Twitter followers, Sr. Mary Rose McGeady stood as a powerful alternative model. In a previous post, Father Araujo beautifully posed the question, "What's it all about?" Sr. Mary Rose can offer us an example of someone who knew the answer. She demonstrated this wisdom through her work and her life which sadly ended September 13th after 84 years of dedicated service to the poorest children. This is a great loss for Catholics, children, and indeed the entire world.
In 1990 the largest program for homeless children in the United States was deeply in trouble. Covenant House had been hailed as an exemplary beacon of help and aid to the forgotten population of homeless children. However, after a scandal and financial problems brought the institution to the brink, it appeared that this once fine example of what a non-profit organization could be was in its last days. At this time of crisis, Covenant House turned to this 62 year old Daughter of Charity of St. Vincent DePaul, whose life had been spent working with children in need, to be its new leader. After praying extensively about the unattractive challenge, Sr. Mary Rose answered the call few others would have heard and became the Executive Director of a deeply in debt Covenant House at a time when its services were deeply needed.
That alone was courageous enough. But what she did in the position is even more remarkable. For the next thirteen years she resurrected the organization and directed its growth to meet the needs of literally hundreds of thousands of children in six countries through its shelters, street outreach, and services. Through her work, Covenant House doubled the number of homeless children served. Today, it is the largest privately funded organization providing food, shelter, and services to homeless children in the Americas.
More intangibly, but equally as critical to the story of this remarkable woman, was the way in which she lead such an impactful life. She did it through love. Again and again in her public presentations or her writing she would come back to what was central to serving the poor: love. Without a doubt, her vision and tenacity were critical to her success. But at the core of all she did was a love of children.
One can read about Sr. Mary Rose's life and achievements in her obituaries here and here. The many accolades indeed demonstrate the fullness of a life dedicated to others. For the legal community, it is significant that her work transcended direct services to children to a tireless advocacy for children in legal and policy circles. Much of her work was spent giving a voice to the voiceless children who are often reduced to statistics, if considered at all, in lawmaking and public policy. She worked to change that and to remind policy makers and academics alike of the real children, those to whom the "kingdom of heaven belong;" (Mathew 19:14); those who are supposed to be the subject of all our concern.
Her life represents so much to us. For Catholic scholars she is a constant reminder of the human story unfolding in the wake of legal and policy decisions. She embodies Catholic social teaching, taking it from complex theory into simple practice. For our students, she represents an alternative message of what it means to live a full life. Sr. Mary Rose died as she lived: happy to be serving God, loving and being loved by so many children, and feeling blessed that she had the richest of lives. At the end of her days she received calls from leaders throughout the country and world. At her funeral next week, the church will no doubt be overflowing with those who want to celebrate her life. That full church, and the love flowing throughout that space, will offer a clear example of how one can lead a very full life when devoted, not to the partnership track, but to the weakest and most vulnerable among us.