Thursday, May 29, 2008

Cornelia Connelly

Among the many converts to Catholicism who have illumined the Church, there is the occasional bad apple. Pierce Connelly, Cornelia's husband, comes to mind. It is one thing to grasp the basic tenets of the Faith and be able to speak wittily about them. It is another to take up the Cross and be ready to die with Christ. Pierce was intellectually fascinated with Catholicism in a way that proved to be transitory and superficial. To Cornelia, however, her new faith was the blood of her heart.

Cornelia Peacock Connelly was born into a wealthy Philadelphia family in 1809. She married Pierce Connelly in 1831, a brilliant and charismatic young Episcopalian minister. They had five children, one of whom died in a horrific accident. In 1835, the family converted to Catholicism. They went to Rome where they were warmly welcomed and became very popular in society. Then in 1840, Pierce announced that he wanted to become a priest. It was odd that he prepared to embrace a celibate life by continuing to beget children with his wife; Cornelia was five months pregnant when he decided to answer the call. In order for Pierce to be ordained, Cornelia had to agree to make a solemn vow of chastity. After profound struggle and heartbreak, she acquiesced, and Pierce was ordained in Rome in 1845. Cornelia, who was already living in a convent with the youngest children, decided to become a nun. At the request of the pope, she went to England and founded a congregation of sisters, dedicated to teaching girls. Cornelia proved herself to be a creative and innovative teacher.

However, Pierce was not happy with his new vocation. He probably thought that as a priest he would dazzle everyone with his brilliant oratory skills and become a celebrity, maybe even a bishop. Instead, he was made an obscure chaplain in a private chapel. He rebelled, rejected his priesthood, and started to harass Cornelia at her convent. He took the children away from her to raise as Protestants, and sued Cornelia for denying him his conjugal rights. There was no small scandal but ultimately Cornelia prevailed. Her Society of the Holy Child flourished although she never saw her children again. Cornelia Connelly, through her vows of both marriage and of religion, entered deeply into the sacrificial mystery of the Lamb. Share

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