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Connelly, Cornelia, Mother


Foundress of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus; b. Philadelphia, Pa., Jan. 15, 1809; d. St. Leonard's, England, April 18, 1879. Cornelia Augusta Peacock of Philadelphia married Pierce Connelly, Episcopalian rector of Trinity Church, Natchez, Miss., in 1831. They had five children: Mercer (1832); Adeline (1835); John Henry (1837) and Mary Magdalen (1839), who died in infancy; and Pierce Francis (1841). Pierce, after studying the claims of the Catholic Church with Cornelia, renounced his Anglican orders in 1835. That year Cornelia was received into the Catholic Church in New Orleans, La., and Pierce in Rome, Italy, in 1836.

In 1840, Cornelia's husband confided to her his conviction that he had a vocation to the priesthood, a conviction that was approved by his spiritual directors and ultimately by the highest authority in Rome. A papal decree of permanent separation was granted in March of 1844. Cornelia was directed to enter the Sacred Heart convent in Rome as a quasi-postulant, her younger children remaining with her. In 1845, she pronounced her solemn vow of chastity and Pierce was ordained. Her ultimate vocationto establish a new teaching congregationwas fostered by John Grassi, SJ. At the invitation of Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman she went to England and founded the Society of the holy child jesus in Derby, Oct. 13, 1846. During her lifetime she established schools in England, the U.S., and France, and subsequently her sisters carried her educational work still farther to Ireland, Wales, Switzerland, Italy, Nigeria, and Ghana.

Her apostolate was accomplished at great personal cost. Her husband apostatized, attempted to regain his conjugal rights, and alienated their children from her and from the Church. In addition, there were temporal anxieties and a delay of the approbation of her rules until after her death. In 1959 the process of her beatification was opened in England. Her congregation then numbered about 900 sisters teaching at all educational and social levels. An African sisterhood, the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus, which became independent in 1960, is an outgrowth of her congregation.

Bibliography: m. t. bisgood, Cornelia Connelly (Westminster, Md. 1963). j. wadham, The Case of Cornelia Connelly (New York 1957). m. c. gompertz, Cornelia Connelly (4th ed. rev. London 1950). c. mccarthy, The Spirituality of Cornelia Connelly: In God, for God, with God (Lewiston, N.Y. 1986). r. flaxman, A Woman Styled Bold: The Life of Cornelia Connelly, 18091879 (London 1991).

[m. c. mccarthy]

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