Rosemary Flanigan, CSJ, PhD
In the Beginning
The Center for Practical Bioethics introduced an annual lecture series to honor Rosemary Flanigan, PhD, in 1995. Sister Rosemary’s relationship with the Center, however, dates back to its founding. She was one of the first to become a member of what was then Midwest Bioethics Center.
In 1986, Father Robert Weiss, a charter board member of the Center and President of Rockhurst University (then Rockhurst College), offered to host public forums for the Center to raise public awareness about issues in bioethics on the Rockhurst campus. Sr. Rosemary, a Professor of Philosophy at the University, became a regular attendee and panelist. When Father Weiss was moved from Kansas City to St. Louis, he asked the Center’s board to allow Rosemary to fulfill his term in order to preserve the Center’s important relationship to the college. The board agreed, and Rosemary did such a fine job that she was elected to three terms on her own and served as board chair in 1991.
As Rosemary was planning her retirement, she informed Myra Christopher, the Center’s founding executive director, that she was adding a master’s degree in library science to her credentials. When Myra asked her why, she said, “That’s what little old white-haired nuns do when they retire.”
Hospital Ethics Committees
Myra was stunned. Anyone remotely acquainted with Rosemary knows that she is gregarious and effusive. Furthermore, Myra realized that Rosemary was uniquely qualified to teach bioethics to members of hospital ethics committees. She has a PhD in philosophy, did post doc work at Oxford, served on the board of trustees for Carondelet Medical Center for many years, started the Ethics Committee at St. Joseph Medical Center, was a charter member of the Kansas City Regional Hospital Ethics Committee Consortium, had been a member of what was then Midwest Bioethics Center from its inception, and was a member of the Center’s board.
Myra threw herself at Rosemary’s feet and asked Rosemary to join the Center’s staff as a Program Associate, “instead of disrupting library patrons.” Specifically, Rosemary was asked to support the Center’s work to develop, educate and evaluate hospital ethics committees. To “seal the deal” Myra said, “Rosemary, patrons of the library would be saying to you, “Shhh! Sr. please….” Fortunately Dr. Flanigan accepted the offer and joined the Center’s staff in 1992. She continued in her role as Program Associate until her retirement in July 2010.
The Flanigan Chair
In 2006, the Center was honored to endow a chair in Rosemary’s name. More than 250 donors participated in the endowment campaign, and Rosemary wrote each donor a handwritten thank you note. One donation came from an elderly nun in a nursing home in St. Louis. A $5 bill was taped to a notecard on which the donor wrote, “Please include me among those who wish to honor Sr. Rosemary.” Another donor made a $1 million gift but asked that it be anonymous. Since its inception and with Rosemary’s blessing, the chair has been held by Tarris “Terry” Rosell, DMin, PhD.
After her second retirement, Rosemary remained active as a Center volunteer. For many years she was the official “greeter” at the Center’s Annual Dinner. She also continued to volunteer at St. Teresa’s Academy in Kansas City, Missouri. Center staff members looked forward to their frequent interactions with Rosemary, as well as insights and opinions she and Myra shared in their contributions to the Center’s blog, “Tuesdays with Rosemary and Myra.”
In August 2016, Rosemary celebrated her 90th birthday.
In 2022, Rosemary moved back to St. Louis, the home of her Catholic order, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Center staff truly miss Rosemary’s visits to the office — when staff heard her voice, smiles rushed their faces as fast as their feet carried them toward her voice. Today, we email her to keep in touch, and just as when we were in her presence, her emails make us feel individually honored to know her.
When asked about her years at the Center, Rosemary always says exactly the same thing: “I cannot imagine having a better job in the whole world than teaching ethics to adults who actually want to learn.” And then her eyes twinkle and she laughs that infectious laugh….