SHCJ Volunteer Takes “Response-Ability” for Introducing Children to the Good Works of Founder
Society’s Principle “Actions Not Words” Highlighted in Children’s Book
ROSEMONT, PA — The life of Cornelia Connelly, who in 1846 founded the Society of the Holy Child Jesus (SHCJ), an order of Roman Catholic Sisters, was inspiring, difficult, and heartbreaking. Yet at all times, Cornelia remained a model of acceptance and love. In honor of Cornelia’s 200th birthday, the Holy Child Sisters asked Catie McElwee, a Response-Ability Volunteer working in the Dominican Republic, to write a children’s book about Cornelia’s life for the Haitian children she was teaching. First written in Spanish, it was soon translated into English as A Generous Love: The Life of Cornelia Connelly and proved to be a welcome portrayal of the struggles and triumphs of a remarkable woman, whom the Roman Catholic Church has declared Venerable. Illustrations by Sister France White, SHCJ bring the story to life.
A Compelling Journey
Those familiar with Cornelia’s story marvel at her journey. Married in 1831 to Pierce Connelly, an Episcopalian minister, the couple led a contented, happy life. Eventually settling in Natchez, Mississippi where Pierce assumed ministerial duties with the Episcopal Church, the couple started their family, engaged with the community, and practiced God’s work. But during that time, Pierce began to question the Episcopal Church. After much study, Pierce and Cornelia decided to convert to Catholicism.
Tragedy hit the Connelly household when the couple’s third child died from a horrific accident. Then, while she was pregnant with their fifth child, Pierce told Cornelia of his intention to enter the priesthood. He moved his family to Rome to discern his calling. While overseas, Cornelia’s kindness, spirit, and selflessness impressed those she met.
Sensing a special calling in Cornelia, the Pope requested that she begin a new order of nuns. After much soul searching, she accepted the challenge, moved to England, and founded the Society of the Holy Child Jesus. Her heart wrenching decision required her to send her children to boarding school for what she thought would be one year. Pierce eventually left the priesthood, returned for the children, and then moved the children to Italy. Cornelia was devastated by the distance between her and her children and she suffered immense pain. But through that pain, she became even closer to God. Her love of children and teaching inspired her to create a caring teaching model, which continues to provide a unique educational experience to children across the globe.
Lessons for Children
A Generous Love highlights the struggles and joys of life. Cornelia transcends her personal pain by understanding that God’s path will lead to where she can do the most good. Her love and devotion to her children was never diminished, but her ability to share her love with other children was expanded greatly when she responded to her calling.
McElwee avoids preaching to her young readers. Instead, she highlights the importance of prayer and contemplation. Portrayed as joyful and loving, Cornelia embodies the joy she spreads to others.
McElwee also discusses the more difficult incidents in Cornelia’s life. She approaches the issues with sensitivity and concern. The situations that Cornelia confronts resonate with the reader—for example, the importance of family, helping others, finding joy in the moment, family problems, loss, sadness, and separation. Cornelia’s ability to radiate joy to others, even in the midst of trials, is moving. Sister Elizabeth Mary Strub, SHCJ has added questions to each page about the events in Cornelia’s life to help children better understand and reflect on Cornelia’s story.
Bringing the Story to Life
The illustrations drawn by Sister France White, SHCJ capture specific events in Cornelia’s life. To ensure that the illustrations were as realistic as possible, the students of the Class of 2012 at Mayfield Junior School of the Holy Child Jesus in Pasadena, Calif. posed for various scenes. Using photographs of the students, Sr. France realistically brought to life the emotions that underlie each illustration.
A Generous Love: The Life of Cornelia Connelly is available in Spanish or English. A donation of $6.00 is appreciated. Please make you check or money order payable to the Society of the Holy Child Jesus and send to: Sister Tese Currie, c/o SHCJ Communications Office, 1341 Montgomery Avenue, Rosemont, Pa. 19010. The book will be mailed promptly. Those interested can also call 610.626.1400, x307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.