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Bears’ Lovie Smith and wife champion Misericordia

The 15th annual Misericorid'Artist In All' is benefit for MisericordiHeart Mercy. From left Lois Gates assistant executive director  MisericordiSister

The 15th annual Misericorida "Artist In All" is a benefit for Misericordia Heart of Mercy. From left, Lois Gates, assistant executive director of Misericordia, Sister Rosemary Connelly, executive director Misericordia, Mary Anne Smith along with her husband Lovie Smith honorary co-chairs. Wednesday, May 22, 2012. | Scott Stewart~Chicago Sun-Times.

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Updated: July 3, 2012 9:49AM

Everyone else was focused on how the Chicago Bears looked on day two of offseason practice. Coach Lovie Smith’s thoughts: I have to get out of here on time.

He had to pick up wife MaryAnne, change clothes and get to the Art Institute for Misericordia’s 15th annual “Artist in All” fundraiser the couple was chairing.

“We’re pretty excited about tonight,” Smith said before the event Wednesday.

“As soon as practice ended at 1, I rushed home. Everybody has something that’s near and dear to their heart, and for our family, developmentally challenged children is one of those things. Our niece is developmentally challenged.”

The couple are staunch supporters of Misericordia Heart of Mercy, the iconic home for disabled children and adults in West Rogers Park run by the formidable Sister Rosemary Connelly. And the Smiths are as dedicated to this cause as to football.

“Cardinal Bernardin said it first, but it really does describe the way I feel. ‘I know I’m closer to God when I’m there,’ ” said MaryAnne Smith, whose sister, Robin, a physician, adopted a little girl with Down syndrome. Corie is now 20.

“That’s just a heavy cross my sister bears. We used to think Robin saved Corie,” she said. “But at the end of the day, we came to realize Corie saved all of us.”

Misericordia was opened in an abandoned orphanage in 1976 by the nun, now 80, who dedicated her life to building a community of care. The 31-acre campus is home to some 610 disabled, who help run a popular, on-site bakery and restaurant.

“Some of their artwork is just unbelievable,” Coach Smith said. “There’s a lot of great fans in Chicago, but Bears fans are definitely number one, and Misericordia residents are just diehard fans. MaryAnne and I invite at least 10 to each game.”

His wife said she became smitten after visiting the campus for various functions.

“You have to find your passion to live the full and meaningful life the Lord wants us to have,” the devout Catholic said. “I was spreading myself thin, when I realized I felt that joy and peace that surpasses all understanding when doing things for Misericordia, the effect of helping the most innocent among us.

“That’s when I told Lovie, ‘We just have to commit here.’ We’ve been blessed.”

As the Coach dashed out the door, he was asked his thoughts on this first week of organized-team-activity workouts. “I’m excited about what I’m seeing, and I think we’re going to be a pretty good football team,” he said. “We’ve got to head downtown now. I’m just the point guard on this. My wife is the franchise player.”

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