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The Curious Case of Cornelia Connelly

Through the years, Cornelia fought priests and bishops seeking closer control of her community, and she won. One Sister observed that she "looks as if she must be obeyed." Still, another added, her major trait was a "bright encouraging spirit." By the time of her death in 1879, the Holy Child Sisters had expanded throughout England, onto the continent, and across the United States. Today its headquarters are in Rome, and its founder is on the track to sainthood. Cornelia was declared Venerable in 1992.

In the 19th-century world, a woman was essentially her husband's property. Although many saw in convent life a loss of liberty, it was only there that Cornelia Connelly discovered true freedom. For half her life, others made decisions for her. It was only when she embraced a religion alleged to be oppressive and misogynistic that she took charge and discovered her true self. But it came at a cost that no wife and mother should ever have to pay.

3/2/2011 5:00:00 AM
Pat McNamara
About Pat McNamara
Dr. Pat McNamara is a published historian. He blogs about American Catholic History at McNamara's Blog.