sister rosemary connell
January 31, 1922 – May 20, 2008
Would S. Rosemary Connell be surprised at the many “from the heart” testimonials written about her? Maybe, but she would indeed be humbled and happy to hear what others have said. Most certainly she would be grateful; chuckling, she probably would tell us she did nothing special. She would say that she only wanted to be a faithful Sister of St. Joseph.
Rosemary was the eldest child and only girl of Mary Katherine Ritchie and James Joseph Connell of St. Louis. Shortly after her birth the family moved from the Cathedral Parish to St. Roch’s, where they lived for thirty years. Her vocation, S. Rosemary said, stemmed from her close affiliation with the Sisters of St. Joseph. When she wrote, “I do not ever remember a time that the Sisters of St. Joseph were not a part of my life,” it seems God was nurturing her life’s direction from childhood. Rosemary was a freshman at St. Joseph Academy in 1936 and remembered well the congregation’s centenary celebration. It was the sisters at the Academy, especially S. Roswitha Melican and S. John Marie Riley who influenced her and loved her into the community.
Early in her religious life, S. Rosemary taught in elementary schools in such places as St. Louis, Ishpeming, Chicago, and Denver. After ten years she became a secondary biology teacher and even taught briefly at her alma mater. She received a master’s in biology in 1961, and then followed that with a doctorate in biology in 1965, both from the University of Notre Dame. Eventually she taught at Fontbonne College for close to ten years.
Most of us, however, remember S. Rosemary from her ministry in the province social justice office. And what a service she gave, not only to the Sisters of St. Joseph, but to the wider community, with her courageous stance for justice. Her presence at meetings, demonstrations—any event wherein she was needed to stand up for social justice on behalf of the Sisters of St. Joseph—testifies to her fidelity. Recall the major project “Ribbon around the Pentagon.” S. Rosemary and others throughout Missouri and the nation gathered various “peace ribbons” and then traveled to Washington, D.C., to tie them together so as to circle the Pentagon. On another occasion she traveled to Las Vegas for a “justice retreat” in which she was prepared for civil disobedience in her protest against nuclear waste dumping in the Nevada desert. Indeed, S. Rosemary acted on her passion for social justice wherever she heard the call.
Embodying the belief that our natural resources are limited, S. Rosemary lived simply. Profusely though, she clothed herself with compassion and carried deep within her the sadness for all the dear neighbors who live with daily oppression and misery. Her breadth of knowledge on justice issues and her wide network of connections in the peace community both locally and nationally let her speak prophetically and fearlessly. At times, she said she felt cursed by her deep yearning for the Kin-dom of God and the pain of what we humans do to one another.
S. Adele Marie Rothan, on the faculty at Fontbonne with S. Rosemary, wrote the following to her: “I always thought of you as a prophetic voice, calling us to the ‘more,’ challenging us to move out of our comfort zone, to see the world and its needs in new ways. Like a prophet, I felt you were often not appreciated in your ‘homeland.’”
After Rosemary left the social justice office she lived for a time in El Paso, where she joined organizations and made herself known through the region. There, too, she was active in causes promoted by the Diocesan Peace and Justice Ministry, El Pasoans Against the Death Penalty, and Border Women. Later, as a resident at Nazareth Living Center, she continued to be an advocate for peace, regularly attending the Justice Hour and sharing insightfully.
How providential for us and for the dear neighbor that Rosemary’s fears of being sent home during the novitiate were never realized. What a rich life and such a beautiful sister we all would have missed out on!
By S. Rita Louise Huebner