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Holy Child Jesus, Society of the


(SHCJ; Official Catholic Directory #4060); a congregation of women religious bound by simple perpetual vows and devoted to a variety of educational works. The Society of the Holy Child Jesus was founded in Derby, England in 1846 by an American convert, Cornelia Connelly. The motherhouse is in Rome, and the society is comprised of European, American, and African provinces.

Mother Connelly responded to an appeal from Bp. (later Cardinal) Nicholas Wiseman of Oscott, England, to assist in the Catholic revival there by improving Catholic education, especially for girls. She soon developed an educational tradition that utilized the resources of Christian humanism, drew upon the educational theory of the time, and exhibited remarkable flexibility in meeting the needs of the individual and the demands of the age. Mother Connelly adapted the rule of St. Ignatius to her congregation, finding inspiration also in the spiritual teachings of St. Francis de Sales, St. Gertrude, St. Teresa, and St. Francis of Assisi.

Her most effective spiritual instruction lay in the example of her own fidelity to the will of God throughout lifelong suffering, occasioned by the apostasy of her husband (who had become a priest), his alienation of their three children from her and from the Church, and his attempts to interfere in the government of her society. His activities contributed largely to the delay in papal approbation of her rule until 1893, after her death. Despite these obstacles, Mother Connelly was able to expand her apostolate in England and to extend it to the United States in 1862 and to France in 1870. It was in 1923 that the motherhouse of the Society was transferred from England to Rome. The former English Province has become the European Province.

From the time of its American foundation at Towanda, PA, in 1862, and in the Philadelphia area, the society across the United States has opened both private and parochial schools, and now has ministries in parish, hospital, college, and legal settings. In 1967, the American Province established a parish and school ministry in Santiago, Chile, and is present in several similar locations in other countries. The Provincial Offices are located in Drexel Hill, PA.

Beginning in 1930 in Nigeria and in 1947 in Ghana, sisters from the European and American Provinces have founded an ever-growing number of schools, including teacher-training colleges. An African sisterhood, the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus, had been established by the society in 1937 and given independent status in 1960. During the 1980s, the former African vicariate became the African Province of the SHCJ.

Following upon Vatican II, and in response to its directives, a special general chapter of the SHCJ was held in 1968. A period of experimentation was begun with a study of the original charism of Cornelia Connelly, and led eventually to revision of the SHCJ Constitutions. Many sisters returned to their Baptismal names, religious habits were modified, superiors, and their councillors became known as leaders and leadership teams. At this time, two censors, who had been appointed by the Congregation of Rites to examine Cornelia Connelly's writings, completed their report. It was in 1992 that she was declared Venerable by Pope John Paul II.

[m. c. mccarthy/

h. g. mayer]

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