Who is Cornelia Connelly?

Cornelia founded the Society of the Holy Child Jesus in England around 1846. She was anything but typical. She was an American-born wife and mother and a zealous convert who became the founder of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus.

Cornelia Peacock was born January 15, 1809 in Philadelphia, Penn. In 1831, she married a minister, Pierce Connelly. Together they had five children, two of which died at a young age.

Cornelia and Pierce were devoutly religious, finding strength and peace through prayer and reflection. Deep faith in God sustained Cornelia throughout her life.

In 1840, Pierce decided to become a Catholic priest and relocated the family to Rome, Italy. But before Pierce could become a priest, Cornelia was obliged to take a vow of chastity and she was encouraged to enter a religious order. Thus, Cornelia entered the Sacred Heart Convent at the Trinita dei Monti under special conditions.

Then in 1846, after the family had relocated to England, Cornelia founded a new congregation of women, The Society of the Holy Child Jesus.

Their primary ministry was education for the mill workers, mostly girls, and poor children of England. Through night and Sunday classes, the sisters provided education to this previously overlooked population of students.

Cornelia believed that education was best accomplished when each student was trusted and cared for.  She also sought to live her life with joy and as “one continuous act of love,” two other trademark characteristics of a Holy Child education.

Through Cornelia’s leadership, the Society of the Holy Child Jesus prospered. At the time of her death in 1879, the Society numbered over one hundred women and its work had expanded to the United States.

A Timeline of Cornelia Connelly's Life

(Please move the arrows back and forth to see highlights of her story.)