The Dignity of a Good Haircut

Misericordia home offers residents with disabilities special styles.

Bridget Burke receives a haircut at the Day Maker’s salon at the Misericordia home in Chicago.
Bridget Burke receives a haircut at the Day Maker’s salon at the Misericordia home in Chicago. (photo: Courtesy of Misericordia)

Smartly attired in black pants and a black shirt, ace hair stylist Anthony Muti carefully grabs a swath of hair and makes a precise cut with his scissors.

Bridget Burke, 37, is getting a special style.

Her mother, Peggy, helps hold Bridget’s head steady. “We’ve got a wedding soon — her little brother,” Burke tells Muti, 60.

That summer day in Chicago, four stylists connected with the upscale Mario Tricoci hair salons came to provide 15 haircuts for residents at Misericordia, a home for 600 children and adults with mild to profound intellectual and developmental disabilities. Begun last fall, the salon at Misericordia, run by the Sisters of Mercy, is staffed entirely by volunteers from Tricoci’s salons and training schools.

A good haircut makes someone’s day: That’s the meaning behind the name of the salon — the Day Maker’s — and the impetus for establishing it.

“Our industry is about self-gratification — looking good and feeling good. We make the residents look and feel good,” says Tricoci, 77, a celebrity stylist who owns 14 salons and spas and has organized and performed in salon shows in Europe and Asia.

Sacred Heart Sister Rosemary Connelly, longtime executive director of Misericordia, said, “I didn’t know who Mario was. But every woman I talked to did.”

Colleen Doherty, who suggested the salon to Misericordia and whose husband is on the home’s advisory board, has a 13-year-old daughter with Down syndrome, Rosalie. The Dohertys’ daughter, who lives at home, has her hair done at a Tricoci salon. “They treat her like a queen. They make such a fuss over her,” Doherty said. “I said to myself, ‘Why can’t the residents at Misericordia get that, too?’”

Besides giving the residents a boost of self-confidence, the salon also is a practical fix to a logistical problem. “It can be a major production for our residents to go out and get a haircut,” said Sister Rosemary. “If they’re in a wheelchair, they don’t fit in a chair at a salon.”

Begun in 1921, Misericordia divides its residents into 13 homes on its sprawling, well-kept, 31-acre campus on the city’s North Side, not far from Loyola University and the lakefront. The home strives to be a warm community. The campus includes an aquatic center, medical and dental clinics and a popular restaurant and bakery, both of which are staffed by residents.

Operating twice a month, the salon is located in a 350-square-foot, sun-lit room, converted from an office. It has oak floors, four sleek black chairs and two shiny black sinks for shampoos. Contemporary pop music plays in the background as the hair stylists cut and comb. “It’s the same cut at Misericordia as at 900 North Michigan Avenue [on the Magnificent Mile in Chicago] or in Oak Brook [a suburb]. The same quality, the same level,” Tricoci said.

According to Sister Rosemary, the value of a haircut goes deeper than appearance. “Anytime you give a person dignity and respect, it’s a spiritual experience,” she explained.

Tricoci provided the salon equipment, and the stylists are salon employees or students at one of the 16 locations of Tricoci University of Beauty Culture, the company’s training facilities with campuses in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. But Tricoci and Co. are not the only valuable asset among Miscordia’s staff. Volunteer workers at Miscordia, including students from nearby Catholic schools, are a staple at Misericordia. “One of the gifts of Misericordia is that we can share our ministry with thousands of people. People are really pleased to come here and help,” Sister Rosemary said.

A partner of Tricoci and a 40-year veteran of the company, Muti recalled how that summer day he gave Burke her specialized trim. He said he drove from the far-west suburb of Naperville, a two-hour commute in rush-hour traffic. The love and the care shown to residents and their sometimes daunting disabilities can often be overwhelming, said Muti, who has 10-year-old twins.

“The first time I came here, I cried when I got home with my kids. If you don’t believe in God, just come here,” he told the Register.

That day, as Muti styled Bridget Burke’s hair, he pulled out a blow dryer to finish up. “Isn’t that fun?” he asked Burke as the air whisked away the hair from the apron. “You are so beautiful,” he told her.

Peggy Burke rolled her daughter away in her wheelchair. “She is beautiful,” she told Muti in parting. In the adjoining waiting room, Burke pulled out her smartphone and showed her daughter a photo she just took of her — smiling brightly with her stylish hair, as if someone had just made her day.

Jay Copp writes from La Grange Park, Illinois.