VENERABLE CORNELIA PEACOCK CONNELLY was born in Philadelphia on January 15, 1809. She was an attractive, well-educated woman with a lively personality. At 22, she married an Episcopalian minister, Pierce Connelly, and four years later, the young couple with their two children became Roman Catholics.
In early 1840, still grieving the death of her third child, a baby daughter, Cornelia made her first retreat of three days. God touched her deeply and her interior life was profoundly changed. She gave herself in a new way to God, desiring to do God's will as it was made known to her through her duties and the events of daily life. Her growing attachment to God was tested that very year. In February, her beloved two-year-old, John Henry, was scalded in a tragic accident and died in Cornelia's arms. From this anguish was born in her a lifelong devotion to Mary as Mother of Sorrows.
Gradually Cornelia discovered her own vocation to be a Religious. In 1845 Pierce was ordained in Rome. Cornelia, hoping to join the Society of the Sacred Heart, went with two of her children to stay with the sisters in Rome, but finding no peace there, she prayed to know God's desires for her. These were made clear in a request from Pope Gregory XVI that she go to England.
In 1846 Mother Cornelia and three companions arrived in Derby and the Society of the Holy Child began. To her great sorrow she was ordered to send her children away to boarding schools. Many other deprivations filled her Society's small beginning, yet a spirit of joy and peace prevailed; Mother Cornelia was able to inspire in her sisters something of her own serenity in adversity.
Soon they were running schools for the poor, holding day, night and Sunday classes to accommodate the young factory workers, giving retreats and helping in the parish.
As her Society grew and its works flourished, great personal suffering again came to Mother Cornelia through Pierce. He renounced both his priesthood and his Catholic faith, removed their three children from the schools they were attending and denied her all contact with them, hoping thus to force her to return to him as his wife. He even pressed a lawsuit against her that gained notoriety in England, but he eventually lost the case.
In this suffering, Venerable Cornelia clung steadfastly to God, her strength. She wrote in her notebook, “I belong all to God,” and this total belonging freed her to give herself to others. Her love for God grew and she sought joyfully to live her life as one continuous act of love. The mystery of God embracing all that is human was the foundation of her charism.
Venerable Cornelia Connelly died in 1879, at St. Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex and was proclaimed Venerable in 1992.
Today, there are Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus in fifteen countries, living the apostolic life as Venerable Cornelia did, seeking to meet the needs of our age through works of spiritual mercy. They are engaged in educational and related spiritual and pastoral ministries.
|Ursuline Convent, New Orleans|