The Decree Declaring Cornelia

The Cause – where are we?

To review briefly how the Canonization Process works –

I. The Bishop of the Diocese where the person died asks permission of Rome to introduce the Cause for canonization. When permission is granted, the interested parties begin to collect all the writings of the Servant of God and identify any witnesses who are still alive who knew the person. They then begin to write the Positio, which contains all the material developed thus far, including the arguments of the Promoter of the Faith, who was formerly called the Devil’s Advocate. After the Positio is studied by the cardinals and other officials of the Congregation, they render a judgment. If the judgment is favorable notice is sent to the Pope, who issues a Decree of Introduction. After two more rounds of investigation, one on the Diocesan level and one in Rome, if the Servant of God is judged to have practiced the Christian virtues to a heroic degree she is hereafter entitled to be called “Venerable.” 

The decree declaring Cornelia “Venerable” begins:
“The truly capable woman – who can find her? She is far beyond the price of pearls.” (Proverbs, 31:10)
Angelo Cardinal Felici, the author of the decree, goes on to say “These words come spontaneously to mind when one considers the life and work of Cornelia Connelly, nee Peacock, who by responding absolutely to divine grace, became in every sense a perfect woman.”

The cardinal then gives a brief account of Cornelia’s life, noting that she married Pierce Connelly, an Episcopal minister, on December 1, 1831. “They had a most happy conjugal and family life, and had five children, two of whom died in childhood.”

After investigating the various aspects of the religious controversies of the time, both Pierce and Cornelia were led to embrace Catholic teachings and came into the Church. Four years later Pierce told Cornelia that he felt that he still had a call to the priesthood.

Immediately realizing the implications of this desire on Pierce’s part, Cornelia insisted that nothing be done hastily, since this was a vocation “contrary to every responsibility of a married man…” However, when the Pope, Gregory XVI, gave his consent to Pierce’s ordination, Cornelia agreed, seeing priesthood as a higher calling than marriage, and accepted the sacrifice “if this was truly God’s will.”

We are all familiar with the story of Cornelia’s life. What most of us probably do not know is how singular this life is in the annals of the Church, and in the Canonization process.

The Cardinal notes that Cornelia realized that she was called to found a new religious congregation dedicated principally to the education of young women. She hoped to found the congregation in her own homeland, but once again bowing to the will of God as it came to her through her superiors, she heeded the request of Pope Gregory XVI and the desire of the future Cardinal Wiseman and began the Society in England.

Felici goes on to say “As with almost all great initiatives that the Lord raises in the Church, Mother Connelly had to undergo many difficulties – both within herself and in her works. First of all was the apostasy of Pierce, then there were rumors against her and her works in a country inimical to the Catholic Church;… To these sorrows which were so severe for a delicate woman, there were others that were not less bitter – false interpretations, envies, plotting even by persons who were to help her in such a useful apostolate. Extraordinary was the faith, hope, and spirit of charity with which this strong, but humble, sweet, upright, and prudent, woman bore these difficulties. In suffering them and overcoming them, Cornelia was supported by her intimate union with God that was continually confirmed by prayer and self-denial.”

Soon after her death her reputation for sanctity became known, but because of the special condition of the Catholic Church in England at the time her cause could be initiated only more than seventy years after her death.
After examining the positio on her life, virtues, and reputation, first the historical consultors, then the theological consultors gave their unanimous approval. In fact, all of the consulters were very impressed at how well the Positio and Informatio were written, both from a legal point of view and from a literary point of view. Then the Congregation for the Causes of Saints declared “that the Servant of God Cornelia Connelly practiced the theological and cardinal virtues and those connected with them in a heroic manner.”

Having reported all this to the Pope, John Paul II accepted and approved the opinion of the Congregation, and solemnly declared:”That the Servant of God Cornelia Connelly, Foundress of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, practiced the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity toward God and her neighbor, and also the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude, and those connected with them in a heroic degree has been proved in this case to the effect which is at issue.”

With this decree, the Church declares the investigative phase of the process over, and equivalently says that Cornelia is worthy of sainthood, because she practiced virtue to a heroic degree. However, as proof of her worthiness, a miracle through her intercession is required.

All the work done up to this point is, in the view of the church, the product of rigorous human investigation and judgment, but fallible nonetheless. What is needed for beatification and canonization are “divine signs” confirming the church’s judgment regarding the virtue of the Servant of God. The Church takes as a divine sign a miracle performed through the intercession of the candidate. But the process by which a miracle is proved is as rigorously juridical as the investigation of heroic virtue.

What is a miracle?

One definition is that a miracle is an event that can be witnessed by the senses but is in apparent contradiction to the laws of nature. The Church recognizes authentic miracles as a divine intervention in the sensible world.

In theory, of course, it is God alone who works miracles. But in the making of saints, it is the faithful who must take the initiative by asking His intervention in the name of the Servant of God. In the words of John Paul II, miracles “are like a divine seal which confirms the sanctity of a Servant of God whose intercession has been invoked, a sign of God who inspires and legitimizes the cult being rendered to [the candidate], and [who] gives a surety to the teaching which [the candidate’s] life, witness, and action embody.”

No cause can develop without a demonstrable reputation for holiness. In part, that reputation depends on evidence that people pray to the Servant of God in time of need and that, in their conviction, some of those prayers are answered. These days, since most accepted miracles are medical cures, it is up to the congregation’s medical consultants to determine that an extraordinary healing is inexplicable by science. The consultants follow a very rigorous program in order to determine whether or not a cure can be explained by science rather than divine intervention.
There are several requirements before declaring a cure inexplicable by medical science.

  1. There must be a diagnosis given in writing by a qualified physician.
  2. There must be a prognosis, also given by a qualified physician.
  3. The medical treatments used must be described, with their outcomes, and the medical documentation (e.g., the doctor’s files, the x-rays, the medical certificates, etc.)
  4. Witnesses who attest to a miraculous cure need to be interviewed; discordant witnesses also need to be interviewed.
  5. To whom did the patient or his or her family/friends pray to obtain a miracle? (It is always permissible to pray to Our Lady)
  6. How soon after praying to the Servant of God did a cure take place?
  7. Was the cure permanent?
  8. Were the medical specialists satisfied that the cure was not the result of the medical intervention?

When we have a physical cure, among the witnesses, besides the cured person, it is necessary to list the family members, the doctors, the nurses and everyone who knows of the miracle. If instead we have a miracle of another kind, (e.g., multiplications of rice, miraculous escapes from fire, from flood, from bad mishaps, etc.) it is necessary to mention those who were present directly at the event, who invoked the intercession of the Servant of God or of the Blessed and the experts who followed and studied the case at the time.
Once the documentation is in, together with the request of the Postulator the Bishop where the mentioned miracle has taken place will see to it that one or more experts will examine everything and they in turn will give their vote in writing.

If the vote of the experts is positive and the Bishop is convinced of the miracle, he will give charge to the Promoter of Justice or other expert (he can be the same Postulator) to prepare the interrogations on the basis of the documentation gathered. Such interrogations will then be examined by the Promoter of Justice, who will add, omit or correct what he deems necessary and then he will sign it.

When all the interrogations and proofs are in, the requisite number of originals and copies will be sent in a sealed package to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome, and the medical experts there will vote on the miracle. If it is accepted, the Cause will proceed to Beatification.

Our Cause, at the moment, is awaiting a miracle in order to move forward. That means that the greatest expense, of the investigation, the submission to the consultors and the declaration of Cornelia as Venerable, is finished. In the case of an eventual Beatification, which does not have to take place in Rome, the cost will depend on how many people are beatified at the same time, in which case the cost is shared among the candidates. One of the priests at the Congregation suggested that Cornelia could be beatified in Philadelphia, since that’s where she was born and baptized, and since there have not been that many native-born saints from the US. Of course, as noted, what we need first is a miracle through her intercession.

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