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Gail Wojciechowski - Misericordia's Woman of Leisure 

by Ernie Stark

Gail Wojciechowski, Misericordia’s Director of Recreation and Leisure, is close to celebrating her 48th anniversary at Misericordia. She is now at precisely 47 years, and 6 months!  

Gail grew up on the southwest side of Chicago. Close to where her family lived was Misericordia South. During her college years, at UICC, as it was known then, Gail studied physical education. While obtaining a teaching certificate was a general goal, Gail’s specific interest was in corrective therapy as she wished to work with children with special needs.

Living in proximity to Misericordia South, it occurred to Gail volunteering there might afford her some practical experience in that field. When she went to inquire, she was told Misericordia was hiring and was offered a job as a child care worker, a position she held for two years. It was toward the end of this period that Misericordia was finalizing plans to move to the north side of Chicago. Staffing needs at the emerging Misericordia North included a position for a physical education teacher.

At that time, programs of any kind, let alone adaptive physical education programs, did not exist for persons with disabilities. Sister Rosemary Connelly, RSM, the newly appointed Executive Director of Misericordia, was not to be stymied by lack of programs. She was determined to create them. Her mantra, “Our residents have a right to life, and a life worth living,” was the rallying cry for program development in a plethora of areas, including recreation and leisure.

Gail became a pivotal player in the development of recreation and leisure activities for the resident community at Misericordia North. These programs, while generally not mandated, are essential to the fulfillment of the residents’ “right to a life worth living.”

One of Gail’s first initiatives was to introduce activities which emphasized gross motor skills and perceptual motor development. Learning those skills led to participation in more sports related activities and, eventually, participation in Special Olympics.

In the beginning, the physical activities stressed fluidity of motion and coordination. Over the course of the next five decades under Gail’s nurturing hand, the recreation and leisure opportunities for residents have increased exponentially. In addition to a more developed physical education program, Gail’s team works with the music and art instructors to create a wide variety of activities music, art, crafts, gardening, yoga, bowling, dance--and approximately three dozen other areas of interest! All activities are adapted to the needs of the participants.

One particular group activity in which Gail is directly involved, and which gives her special joy, is known by many in the Misericordia family: “The Heartbreakers.” This dance group performs at a myriad of special occasions, including Family Fest, and the Advent Brunches, emerged back in the 1980‘s from another longstanding group, “Showtime,” Misericordia’s thespians.   “The Heartbreakers,” a twenty member carefully selected dance ensemble bring a special satisfaction to Gail because they manifest what residents can accomplish. Along with colleague Jacob Green, who has been involved with the group for 16 years, Gail has witnessed not only the mastery of dance steps by the group, but the emergence of resident leaders among the members, along with the members’ own contributions to their choreography.

Gail’s job entails managing and arranging recreational and leisure activities, as well as special events, for the resident community. In addition to her teaching and administrative duties, her greatest asset may be her ability to see each resident as an individual person. Speaking of the residents, she says, “They have become my life....I love to see them progress....I enjoy seeing their happiness....I enjoy the sense of family here....I don’t see the residents as disabled; I see each of them as individuals, as persons who can accomplish....It is the residents who keep me here.”

Sister Rosemary often remarks that God sees to it that she is surrounded by “good people who make me look good.” Gail Wojciechowski makes Sister Rosemary look awfully good, and she has been doing this for an extraordinarily long time. Thank you, Gail for being such a gift to Sister, the residents and the entire Misericordia family!

(Gail is in the front on the left in the photo)