Celebrating 175 Years of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus
On the most gorgeous October day, we gathered on the turf field for an outdoor Mass to celebrate Founder’s Day. It was the first time a full cohort of students (the half that are on campus that week) gathered all together in any way for many months, and there was a characteristic joy in the air.
Our celebrant, Fr. Ebuka Mbanude, boldly proclaimed to our students that maybe in 175 years people would be speaking about them! That with a deep connection to God and the grace to “be yourself but make that self all that God wants it to be,” as Cornelia Connelly wrote, they could have a lasting impact on the world around them and create a legacy, as Cornelia did 175 years ago when she started the Society of the Holy Child Jesus. These words struck me deeply, as this powerful message made me consider what just one person, relying on God, can do.
Venerable Cornelia Connelly has been an inspiration in my life ever since I was introduced to her when I was a freshman at Holy Child in 1994. Truthfully, my first knowledge of her was surface level – trying to memorize trivia facts about her for the annual Connelly Quiz. But evident in our school mission and halls, I experienced her vision of joyful, faithfilled, well-rounded education for young women. She was so ahead of her time, and her ministry has impacted generations of students. She left behind the amazing legacy of the Society, schools, and ministries to serve those on the margins. I wonder if she could have ever known all that the Society would grow to become!
As I have come to know her life story more deeply as an adult, I remain amazed that she was able to accomplish all that she did, despite the barriers and tragedies in her life. She remained faithful to God’s desires for her and led with faith and joy. And as such, she is a powerful witness to all of us, from her Sisters to each and every student who has attended a Holy Child School.
“Love and Serve” is the theme that the Society has given for the 175th anniversary celebration. This is so fitting to represent her life and legacy, as well as the vision for our network of schools in the United States and around the world. I see my fellow alumnae acting out this legacy all around me, every day. We are women of faith and action who occupy every profession, lead our communities, care for our neighbors and families, support one another, and serve our wider communities. All the time, but especially in this of pandemic, I have been inspired to see alumnae stepping up, each in her own way, to love and serve. This love and service looks like medical professionals caring for those most in need, addressing food insecurity by creating new programs, participating in college service trips, offering direct and indirect service to organizations in cities across the country, teaching creatively in so many different platforms, and doing big and small acts of kindness, among others.
Cornelia’s legacy is so evident to me every day at school, which I’m privileged to experience. On campus, even with restrictions and masks, our students are joyful, thrilled to be here and support one another. Their love shows up as they lead retreats, perform thousands of hours of community service on campus, off campus, and through innovative virtual service that puts them in encounter with others. As Campus Minister, I get to watch students’ journeys, as they seek deeper relationship with God, and as they grow in understanding of themselves, others, and the world around them. Some of my favorite Holy Child days are when we’re doing something like making sandwiches for Martha’s Table, assembling hygiene kits for women experiencing homelessness, or driving students to Washington School for Girls to help with the math club there on a Saturday. The spirit of Cornelia and the SHCJ’s love and serve is active and vibrant, and serves as an inspiration for so many of us, from our current students and faculty to all of us across generations.
Written by: Catherine Easby-Smith Albornoz '98