What A Life! Mother Cornelia Will Remain in England

The secularised sisters of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus withdrew plans to relocate the remains of their foundress, Venerable Mother Cornelia Connelly (+1879) from Mayfield School, Sussex, England, to the cathedral in Philadelphia, USA, where she was born.

An association of former pupils had opposed her exhumation calling it “virtually obsolete,” “seldom practised in the modern Church,” and a “distasteful medieval custom.”

Cornelia was born a Protestant and married the Episcopal parson Pierce Connelly. After a wave of anti-Catholic pogroms in the US due to Catholic immigration the Connellys became interested in the Faith.

They went to Rome. Pierce met Gregory XVI, petitioned so compellingly for admittance to the Church that Gregory was moved to tears.

In summer 1839 their fourth child died six weeks after birth. In 1840, their two-year-old son died after an accident. The same year, Pierce told Cornelia he wanted to become a priest. Cornelia was pregnant of her fifth child Frank.

After being refused by the Jesuits, Pierce took his family to Rome. Cornelia agreed to her husband’s wish to become a priest. She started teaching at the convent school at the Spanish Steps.

Pierce was again refused by the Jesuits because the Vatican allowed him to visit his family once a week, but the Jesuits disapproved of such frequent contact.

Before Pierce became a subdeacon, Cornelia pleaded him to return to the family. After his refusal, she released him and pronounced a vow of perpetual chastity. She was 36.

Cornelia went to England to run a day school for 200 pupils. After a year of total separation, Pierce arrived unannounced to see her but she told him not to come again.

Pierce started harassing his wife, withdrew the children Mercer, Adeline and Frank from her, and pressed a lawsuit causing a major scandal in order to force Cornelia’s return.

The lawsuit signed by Pierce omitted his conversion and ordination, and petitioned that Cornelia be "compelled by law” to render him conjugal rights.

Pierce lost the case but Cornelia could not regain custody of her children. He left the priesthood and earned a living from writing anti-Catholic tracts. Cornelia had to take precautions against abduction by her husband.

The alienation of her children was a horific suffering for Mother Cornelia. She said that the Society of the Holy Child was "founded on a breaking heart".