Who was Rosie Kennedy?

Rosie was the first daughter of a wealthy Bostonian couple who would become known as the patriarch and matriarch of America’s most famous and celebrated family. Elizabeth was the first and only child of a struggling Wisconsin farm family. When they bonded, Rosie was forty-four and Elizabeth a child of only four.

What, besides their religion, did these two very different Catholic women have in common?

One person really: Stella Koehler, a charismatic woman of the cloth who became Sister Paulus Koehler after taking her vows with the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis of Assisi. Sister Paulus was Elizabeth’s aunt who became Rosemary’s caregiver for thirty-five years.

“The Missing Kennedy” chronicles Rosie’s life…

along with that of the author’s aunt, and delves into the similarities between the two families. It includes many never-before-seen private photos, Kennedy quotes from the author’s interviews, and anecdotes about Rosemary and her famous family.

Tragically, a caregiver  had become necessary after Rosie, a slow learner prone to emotional outbursts, underwent one of America’s first lobotomies―an operation Joseph Kennedy was assured would normalize Rosie’s life. It did not. Rosie’s condition became decidedly worse.

After the procedure, Joe and Rose Kennedy sent Rosie to rural Wisconsin and Saint Coletta, a Catholic-run home for the mentally disabled. For the next two decades, she never saw her siblings, her parents, or any other relative, the doctors having issued stern instructions that even the occasional family visit would be emotionally disruptive to Rosie.

Following Joseph Kennedy’s stroke in 1961, the Kennedy family, led by mother Rose and sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver, resumed face to face contact with Rosie.

An insightful, poignant, and important memoir

Elizabeth’s Koehler-Pentacoff’s work is based in part on Sister Paulus’ private notes and augmented by dozens of never-before-seen photos. She recalls the many happy and memorable times spent with Rosie – “the Missing Kennedy.”

Based on independent research and interviews with the Shriver family, the author tries to come to grips with Joseph Kennedy’s well-intended decision to submit his eldest daughter to a still experimental medical procedure, and his later decision to keep Rosie almost entirely out of public view.  She looks at the many parallels between Rosie’s post-operative life, her own, and those of the two families.

Elizabeth’s Koehler-Pentacoff traces how, entirely because of Rosie, the Kennedy and Shriver families embarked on an exceedingly consequential campaign advancing the cause of the developmentally disabled―a campaign that continues to this day.