Sister Mary Rose McGeady, who led Covenant House for 13 years after a sexual abuse and financial scandal crippled the organization, died September 13 in Albany, N.Y. The cause of death was respiratory failure. She was 84-years-old.
“From ashes, really, she pulled Covenant House forward and saved hundreds of thousands of kids,” said Covenant House President Kevin Ryan.
Sister Mary Rose the New York City-based homeless youth shelter network in 1990, months after founder Rev. Bruce Ritter resigned. Former Covenant House residents of sexual misconduct accused Father Ritter. Though no criminal charges were brought against him, the investigation uncovered financial mismanagement and Ritter resigned in February 1990.
“(Sister McGeady) courageously led that organization from difficult times to successful times. It took fortitude and strength and much of the credit for Covenant House’s success goes to her leadership,” said Bennett Weiner, chief operating officer of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance in Arlington, Va. “She recognized what was important and the significance of accountability, and she realized those things had to be done to gain the confidence of the public.”
Covenant House’s donations dropped from $80 million per year to $42 million in the wake of the scandal and Ritter’s resignation. By the time of McGeady’s retirement in 2003, donations had tripled from the low point to almost $130 million. The network had expanded from 11 shelters to 22 in six North and Central American countries. Covenant House now serves approximately 57,000 homeless youth in 26 cities per year.
“Certainly it is one of the significant comebacks because of the amount of time they were in the press over that story,” said Weiner. “It wasn’t a quick issue. I think that made the change that much more of a challenge. She proved (Covenant House) had the right person in place to make that a success.”
McGeady died at St. Louise House, a home for retired nuns in Albany, N.Y., run by her order, the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, which she joined in 1946. Born in 1928 in Hazelton, Pa., McGeady had worked with children for more than 40 years before joining Covenant House. “My calling was to take care of God’s children living on the streets,” she said at the time of her appointment.