Rosemary Keegan graduated from Community High School in June 1947. The following October, she entered the Novitiate of the Sisters of Loretto in Nerinx Kentucky. She earned her BA in Education with a minor in Philosophy from Webster College and took her final vows as a Sister of Loretto on August 15, 1953. Then known as Sister Rosemary, she earned her Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education from DePaul University. Her thesis was titled “Teacher’s Rating of Play and Play Equipment in Kindergarten Education.” In 1984, she earned her PhD in Educational Administration from the University of Northern Colorado. Her dissertation title was “The History of Head Start in America.” She also wrote her autobiography, published in 2002, and aptly titled Like Nun Other.
For 15 years Sister taught at several Catholic elementary schools staffed by the Sisters of Loretto. She willingly accepted all transfers that her Mother Superior ordered including a move from piano teacher to Kindergarten teacher. Some time later, she said, “I saw the wisdom of the decision to reassign me and I realized that I belonged as a teacher of little children. My community had the light of the Holy Spirit and the Sisters of Loretto prepared me to be a good teacher.” In 1965 her professional and personal life changed significantly. She was released from teaching in parochial schools in order to begin the first Head Start Education Program in Denver. She was a member of the Early Childhood Program, Directors and developed the origins program, which became Head Start. The program received a government grant for 5 million dollars as part of President Johnson’s War of Poverty.
Sister also held a variety of positions professionally. She was an instructor of Early Childhood Development at Mary Grove College in Detroit and at Georgetown University. She was President of the Metro Area Board of Catholic Education, the first nun to hold this position. Sister was the Chair of the St. Louis unit of the National Kindergarten Association and President of the National Catholic Kindergarten Association. In addition, she was the only nun in Denver with a Master’s in Early Childhood Education.
Sister’s professional awards include the US Department of Health and Human Services Regional Director’s Citation for 21 years of service to Head Start and the National Catholic Education Association Elementary School Department Award. In 1986, the Child Opportunity Program /Northeast renamed the Teton Head Start Center the Sister Rosemary Keegan Center. She was an active member of the Delta Kappa Gamma, the International Honor Society for women educators and the City of Denver proclaimed November 21, 1999, as Sister Rosemary Keegan Day.
On November 17, 1981, tragedy struck. Sister arrived at her Head Start office and found an intruder attempting to steal food vouchers. She was badly beaten and left for dead. Fortunately, a coworker found her, and she was rushed to the hospital. There was no denying Sisters' indomitable spirit and will to continue her work. She was in the midst of studying for her PhD and two days after the accident asked that a take home test be mailed to her professor at the University of Northern Colorado. Her recovery took three years, and she returned to Head Start in 1984 as a consultant-coordinator of in-service training. She also completed her PhD during that time. In her book, Sister states that she “prays an extra holy hour a day to be accepting, cheerful and open to whatever is asked of me in doing His work.” Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, Archbishop of Denver once asked for her prayers, and she agreed with this stipulation, “It’ll be right after I pray for Willie Loggins.” Willie Loggins was her attacker and was found guilty of attempted murder. When she met Pope John Paul II, she said to him, “I would like you to bless this rosary for my assailant.” She knew that he would understand the word assailant because he too had been attacked.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, in 1996, she took on Denver Head Start Agency officials accused of defrauding the program. At Sister’s insistence, the federal government investigated and found them guilty of mismanaging agency funds.
Sister Rosemary Keegan passed away at the Loretto Motherhouse in Kentucky on August 18, 2006. She is survived by her brother Alan, his wife, Maggie and their 4 children. It is not an understatement to say that Sister deserves to be a part of the Academic Hall of Fame not just because of her scholarship but also because of the Christian principles by which she lived every day of her life, an example to us all.