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January 15, 2003     556 Words

Sister Mary Rose McGeady: Champion and Savior of Covenant House

CINCINNATI—Sister Mary Rose McGeady, D.C., did not want the job as president of Covenant House, the well-known agency for runaway teens that’s based in Manhattan. When the position was offered to her in 1990, the agency was near ruin and an overwhelming amount of work was needed to save it. Yet, through prayer and self-examination, she eventually accepted the challenge of leading Covenant House. Today, it’s thriving once again, largely due to the efforts of Sister Mary Rose, who will retire from her position in June of this year.

The life and career of this dedicated nun are featured in the February issue of St. Anthony Messenger, entitled “Sister Mary Rose McGeady: Rebuilding Covenant House.” Author Claudia McDonnell examines the journey of Sister Mary Rose, a lifelong advocate for child welfare. After January 26, the article will be posted at:

When she took the job, Sister Mary Rose had her work cut out for her. The founder of Covenant House, Father Bruce Ritter, resigned after accusations of sexual and financial misconduct. Although he denied any wrongdoing and no formal charges were filed, he left his post as leader of Covenant House. Donations plunged while the agency’s debt swelled to $38 million. Clearly, the agency needed a miracle. That miracle took the shape of Sister Mary Rose, who immediately set out to restore confidence in the agency and save it from financial ruin.

Sister Mary Rose had an impressive background in service to fall back on. Born in Hazelton, Pennsylvania, in 1928, the family moved to Washington D.C., when Mary Rose was in the first grade. As a high school student, she volunteered on weekends at St. Ann’s Infant Asylum in D.C. She entered the Daughters of Charity at the age of 18 and attended Emmanuel College in Boston, earning a degree in sociology before receiving a master’s in clinical psychology from Fordham University.

Sister Mary Rose was named director of mental health services for Brooklyn Catholic Charities in 1973. She spent years opening mental-health clinics, day-treatment programs, workshops and alternative living programs. Under her leadership, Catholic Charities’ mental- health budget rose from $300,000 to more than $6 million.

Covenant House would need such a leader to salvage its reputation. With apprehension in her heart, Sister Mary Rose made a pact with God. “I said, ‘If you want me to do this, I will do it. Let’s make a covenant, you and me. Together we’ll work to save this place,’” she says.

Today, Covenant House is financially sound and even more prosperous than before. When Sister Mary Rose arrived, the agency was in 12 cities; today that number has increased to 21, with 15 facilities in the United States, two in Canada and one each in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Under Sister Mary Rose’s leadership, job-training and life-planning programs, as well as numerous community centers have been implemented, all designed to aid in the survival of her lifelong priority: children.

Sister Mary Rose is philosophical about her calling. “I have always felt that was the blessing of my vocation: that I was sent to these kids, and I loved it.”


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