Manchester Nurse, Foster Mom, Mentor Wins Spirit of St. Anthony Award
Peggy McDonnell, a Manchester nurse, foster mom and youth mentor, received the Spirit of St. Anthony Award.
St. Anthony's Hospital issued the following announcement in a news release.
The door to the home of Tim and Peggy McDonnell swings only one way – open.
The McDonnells opened that door 15 years ago; and some 65 children, many of them bruised, broken, battered and utterly alone in the world, passed through that threshold. The McDonnells are foster parents.
“We wanted to make a positive difference in the lives of children,” Peggy McDonnell said. “They come into our home damaged, and we help them feel safe and nurtured. Some of their back stories are horrible. We found one child cracking open canned food with a hammer; another hid hot dogs under his pillow. They’re just delighted to have their own bed, clean sheets, regular mealtimes and lots of hugs and encouraging words.”
The McDonnells currently are caring for just one foster child – a number that could change at any moment, day or night. But their Manchester home is not going to quiet down for a number of years yet, considering they have five adoptive children, ranging in age from 3 to 12; and six biological children, ages 17 to 31, two of whom are still living at home. Occasionally, there are six grandchildren counted in the mix.
“We didn’t initially set out to adopt,” McDonnell said. “I was told my son (now 12 years old) was not adoptable, because he had too many medical problems; but his brother would be sent to an adoptive home. They were so bonded, I couldn’t separate them – so we took them both.”
When that “unadoptable” little boy was just 4 years old, he had to get glasses. McDonnell “celebrated” the occasion by taking him to the mall and telling him he could choose anything he wanted. He pulled her by the hand to the photo store, because what he wanted was a photo of the two of them together. “She’s my mom,” he proudly told the photographer.
The hardest part of foster parenting, McDonnell said, is saying good-bye. “Your job is to help prepare them for a good future, then to let them go,” she said. “It’s hard, but it’s about the child, not about my needs. I signed on to grieve, be sad and shut down for awhile.”
McDonnell calls foster parenting “an extraordinary calling”, where the rewards far outweigh the sacrifices. “Yes, you have a lot of long, sleepless nights – these children have been through terrible things – but to see a child learn to trust you is a huge thing to celebrate,” she said. “I’ll admit I have grown humanly tired IN this work; but I’ve never grown tired OF the work. If you open your heart and your doors, you will find needs to meet. Helping to give lost kids a productive role in society and a chance at a happy life is enormously rewarding.”
“Full-time” mom for McDonnell, 58, does not translate into “stay-at-home” mom. She has worked as a registered nurse at St. Anthony’s Medical Center for 26 years, first in Orthopedics and, for the past six years, at Hyland Behavioral Health. As a case manager, she advocates for her adult and adolescent patients, working to ensure that their care needs are met, and offering support and information to their families.
“I chose to be an RN because I believe I have a calling to be a caregiver,” McDonnell said. “And St. Anthony’s long tradition of compassionate care giving truly correlates with the rest of my life.”
“The rest of her life” includes helping to run the women’s ministry, teaching Sunday school and working with the youth group at West Springs Church. She is involved in the development of a church-sponsored community youth mentoring program, and was a part of the early development of Angel’s Arms, a non-profit organization that sponsors homes for siblings to keep them from being separated in foster care. St. Anthony’s will sponsor their fundraising event in November.
On Nov. 19, McDonnell will be honored by St. Anthony’s Medical Center’s Charitable Foundation Physician Ambassadors with their Spirit of St. Anthony Award, which recognizes outstanding medical professionals, volunteers and organizations that embody the faith-based mission of St. Anthony’s. McDonnell, nominated by her department manager, will be honored at St. Anthony’s Physician Ambassadors fund-raising dinner. Also honored will be Norbert Siegfried, for his 44 years of service on St. Anthony’s board of directors; and Lewis, Rice & Fingersh, for its legal and financial counsel to St. Anthony’s Charitable Foundation. Awardees will receive framed certificates and awards modeled after the cross sculpture at the corner of Kennerly and Tesson Ferry roads.
The Spirit of St. Anthony Award was established to recognize outstanding individuals and groups that:
- perform philanthropic and/or humanitarian work in the community, the nation or the world, in partnership with St. Anthony’s Medical Center
- affirm the mission of St. Anthony’s by placing the patient first in everything they do
- sustain Christ’s healing ministry by aiding the sick, the poor, and the underserved
- serve the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of mankind in a manner that upholds the dignity of human life and the faith-based beliefs of the Catholic Church.
Members of the community may offer a tribute gift, in the awardees’ honor, online at www.sacf-giving.org or by calling 314-525-7330. Half of the funds raised from the dinner are donated to support St. Anthony’s Hospice program; the other half is distributed to area charities through the Physician Ambassadors’ health outreach grants.