Sister Mary Rose McGeady, 84, a Roman Catholic nun who devoted her life to helping homeless and trafficked children and who for 13 years served as President of Covenant House, the largest charity in North and Central America helping homeless young people, passed away in Albany, New York early Thursday morning.
She passed away at St. Louise House, a home for retired nuns run by her religious order, the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul. At the time of her death, she was surrounded by her family, religious sisters and friends from Covenant House, including Kevin Ryan our current Covenant House President.
In July 1990, Sister Mary Rose took on the biggest challenge of her professional career when she accepted the position of President of Covenant House. A few months earlier, the founder of Covenant House, Father Bruce Ritter had resigned amid charges of sexual misconduct, and Covenant House was at a critical juncture in its history. Thousands of donors curtailed their support for Covenant House just as the economic recession of 1990 caused a surge in youth homelessness.
“We confidently predict that not many years from now, we will all look back at the moment of Covenant House’s greatest pain and see that it was also a moment of birth of a new, stronger, even more effective instrument of goodness,”said then-New York Governor Mario Cuomo. “I believe this will happen because of their superb new leader, Sister Mary Rose McGeady.”
Cuomo’s confidence was well-founded. With a lifetime already spent working with troubled children and degrees in psychology and sociology, Sister Mary Rose arrived at Covenant House with widespread respect and recognition within religious and social work circles. She proved to be the perfect choice to lead the agency out from its crisis, imposing rigorous new standards of transparency and accountability. “I asked God to help me to know what He wanted,”she said when she was offered the position. “And I got to the point that I really felt like the hand of God was on me. My calling was to take care of God’s children living on the streets.”
“She had a huge soft spot for kids but she was no one’s fool. Come hell or high water, she was determined to clean up Covenant House,”said Kevin Ryan, our current President of Covenant House , whose new book Almost Home recounts the storm clouds that hovered over Sister Mary Rose when she took the helm. “From ashes, really, she pulled Covenant House forward and saved hundreds of thousands of kids.”
Sister Mary Rose, a Daughter of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, was born on June 28, 1928 in Hazelton, Pennsylvania. Prior to becoming President of Covenant House in July of 1990, she worked with children for over 40 years, including stints as Executive Director of the Nazareth Child Care Center for Homeless Children in Boston, Executive Director of the Astor Home for Children in Rhinebeck, NY, and Associate Director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Brooklyn.
In her 13 years as Covenant House president, Sister Mary Rose expanded the reach of Covenant House dramatically. She established new crisis shelters, street outreach, and long-term residential programs for homeless youth in Canada, the United States and Nicaragua, doubling the number of children being served by Covenant House annually. Covenant House now reaches more than 57,000 children and youth a year in 6 countries.
She was a tireless advocate for homeless children, using her audiences with prime ministers and presidents to urge a focus on lifting children and homeless teenagers out of poverty. “Watching our kids survive, prosper and grow has been one of the great blessings God has given me on this earth,”Sister Mary Rose said. “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, and one miracle at a time.”
“She was the Mother Teresa of street children,”said Ryan, “a Holy tornado of determination and compassion. She lived and died every day with the successes and failures of our kids …and she saw God in the tired faces of the kids who walked through the open doors of Covenant House.”
Sister Mary Rose had a gift for finding the goodness in the hearts of everyone, especially the homeless children of Covenant House she loved so dearly. She opened so many doors for homeless kids, and her legacy is the thousands of formerly homeless children who are now happy adults, with jobs, homes, and families of their own. We pray God will reward her for a life beautifully lived and has opened the doors of heaven for her faithful servant.
Sister Mary Rose is survived by her sister, Catherine Pendleton, her brother-in-law, Frank, her sister-in-law, Ruth, and eight nephews.