Venerable Cornelia Connelly

Lay Apostle (1936-1970)
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Cornelia Connelly was born in 1809 to a wealthy Philadelphia family. In 1831 she married an Episcopal priest, Pierce Connelly, who subsequently renounced his Anglican orders and, joined by Cornelia, entered the Catholic Church. In 1839 Pierce confided his wish to seek ordination as a Catholic priest. Realizing this would mean separation, Cornelia was stricken. Still the dutiful wife, she tried to believe in the coincidence between her husband’s wishes and the will of God. She remained behind, pregnant with her fifth child (two had died), while Pierce went to Rome to pursue his vocation. Eventually he summoned his family. The pope had approved his ordination, provided that Cornelia would make a vow of chastity.  

Several bishops urged Cornelia to go to England to establish a religious congregation for the education of girls. She accepted the challenge, taking her children with her, and within a few years she had achieved some eminence in the English Catholic Church. But her trials were not over. Pierce renounced his priesthood and wished her to resume her marital duties. When Cornelia refused, he brought a suit against her in Anglican court. The court decided in Cornelia’s favor, and Pierce, enraged, kidnapped her children and took them back to America. She never saw them again.  

Cornelia remained superior of her congregation, the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, for over thirty years, winning admiration for all she did to advance the education of young women. But she would always bear the weight of her sorrows. She died on April 18, 1879. In 1992 she was proclaimed venerable.  

“Is not our faith a sword of strength? I feel it so, my Lord.” —Venerable Cornelia Connelly 

© Liturgical Press.

Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.

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