The Kennedys have been one of the most fascinating families in American history. For decades, there have been countless books and movies, all about them. I’m not quite sure what makes them so interesting, so intriguing, that years (if not decades) after one of their brightest stars passed, people are still interested.
Joe Kennedy and his wife Rose had 9 children, each of whom were the light of their lives. One child in particular caused them more trouble, heartache, and worry than any of the others. Rosemary Kennedy, The Missing Kennedy, was their third child, and their oldest daughter. Her two older brothers were smart, ambitious, and one would become a president. She had four younger sisters, with whom she was incredibly close. Despite her siblings’ success and accomplishments, something seemed wrong with her. At least that’s what her paretns thought. She struggled in school, and didn’t seem to measure up to any of them. Although, in growing up in this household there must have been high expectations.
Rosemary was slower than her siblings, and slower than friends and classmates. She was once diagnosed as mentally retarded. This was in the 1940s. There weren’t many options available for treatment or care for her. During her father’s rising career (he once served as an ambassador to the UK), she was maturing, she was beautiful, and she was believed to be a risk to her brothers’ ambitions. Her behavior was unlike her siblings, and though not out of the ordinary for her age, she was expected to be a proper young lady, especially while living abroad. As her behavior grew more erratic, as she was prone to extreme mood swings, her father began considering his options.
He resorted to a lobotomy. At the time, the surgery was revolutionary. It promised to balance her moods and behavior, and basically keep her in line. After the surgery, she was sent to live in a group home in Wisconsin. This is where the story really begins. The author, Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff’s, aunt was a nun who worked at this group home. Her Aunt Stella became Sister Paulus. Both women came from large, strong, Catholic families. That’s where the similarities ended. Yet, Rosie’s family included Sister Paulus in theirs, the two women took several trips together, and no one cared better for Rosemary than Sister Paulus. The Kennedy family continually expressed their thanks to both her, and the home.
The book was really interesting, and included many personal details that had been shared with Koehler-Pentacoff, who was really close to her aunt. She had exclusive access to this information, as well as a ton of pictures that are shared throughout the book, of her aunt, Rosemary, and the rest of the Kennedy clan who frequently visited her. Part of the story was heartbreaking, knowing that Rosemary went through a procedure that would essentially end her life as she knew it.
The book could’ve been better, but I still enjoyed reading it. Included in this brief history of the Kennedy family, and of the details of Rosemary’s life, is the background of the author’s family – with a focus on the aunt who got to know Rosemary so closely. It takes a special person to care for the disabled – and that’s exactly who Sister Paulus was. She cared for Rosemary better than anyone in the Kennedy family.