Chicago's Concetta McCartney

posted 22 Oct 2009, 05:55 by Stefan Gigacz   [ updated 2 Apr 2010, 01:30 ]
Money was tight when she was young, and Concetta "Connie" McCartney's Sicilian parents told her she would have to leave high school so they could afford her brother's tuition.

She wasn't finished learning, and while raising four girls, she went back to school to get her GED and a college degree, which she put to use running a Montessori preschool at an inner-city church for more than 20 years.

Mrs. McCartney, 76, died Monday, Oct. 19, in
 University of Illinois Medical Center at Chicago, three days after suffering a massive stroke, said her daughter Maura.

The former Connie LoPresti went to work as a secretary after her sophomore year at Alvernia High School on the Northwest Side. Her father had taken ill, and his son's education came first. It was a well-meaning if Old World decision, but Mrs. McCartney didn't let it derail her future. She became active with Young Christian Workers, which worked with Catholic parishes in the city, and took mission trips to Nicaragua and Rome.

Through the YCW, she met John McCartney Jr., a community organizer from
 San Francisco. They married in 1964 and settled in Pilsen, where they were involved with social justice organizations including the Pilsen Neighbors Community Council.

"We were kind of religious hippies of the '60s," her husband said.

As she started her family, Mrs. McCartney also studied for her GED. Her graduation photo shows her in cap and gown with a child in one arm and two more at her feet.

She then pieced together a bachelor's degree through tests, classes at Concordia University and at Northeastern Illinois University's working-adult oriented University Without Walls program.

"She'd be studying late at night, after we'd be off to bed. She always had a book in her hand," said her daughter Carla.

She became interested in the Montessori educational method and volunteered as an assistant in a program for special needs children at her parish, St. Pius V. She enrolled her daughters in a preschool at First Immanuel Lutheran Church at Roosevelt Road and Ashland Avenue.

With her friend Dorothy Sikora, she began volunteering at the preschool, and around 1975 the two women took over, for many years splitting a single paycheck.

"Children's learning was very important to her," Sikora said.

The school employed the Montessori method and enrolled a range of preschoolers, kids from the nearby ABLA public housing complex mixing with the children of
 University of Illinois at Chicago teachers. Every Friday, Mrs. McCartney and Sikora had to take down their classrooms in the church hall, folding chairs and tables and putting away bookshelves and toys. Every Monday, they would have to set it all up again. 

When the school closed around 1995, the women moved it to Children of Peace Parish's school on Taylor Street, where they continued to operate their preschool until 2001.

"She loved education, and I think that played a part in her wanting to find a way to (provide) the best education for children," her husband said. "She felt it was unfair that she was require to leave (high) school when she was doing so well and loved it so much."

Her commitment to
 Chicago was strong; after many years in Pilsen, the McCartneys moved a little farther south to the old Italian neighborhood around 24th Street and Oakley Avenue.

With her husband, who taught English for 27 years at Marshall High School on the West Side, she attended Mass every day except Saturday.

"She slept in and got her hair done, which was almost a religious ritual itself," her husband said.

Mrs. McCartney is also survived by two other daughters, Julia Martin and Christina Itounas; a brother, Norm LoPresti; a sister, Cathy Donato; and five grandchildren.

Concetta 'Connie' McCartney, 1933-2009: Forced to drop out of high school, she attained a career in education