Cornelia Connelly’s Descendants Visit Mayfield

3 May 2017

By Maria Dinnendahl, SHCJ

Recently, some of the Society’s founder Cornelia Connelly‘s family members made a visit to Mayfield, England.

Charlotte Vanni d’Archirafi, the Danish wife of Francesco Vanni d’Archirafi, great-great-grandson of Cornelia’s son Frank, contacted Mayfield School and asked if the family could visit, and of course she was told that they would be more than welcome. How did it come about that the link to Mayfield, the school and the Society was renewed?

British playwright Diane Samuels and her friend and research consultant Ghislaine Kenyon (a Mayfield School alumna) are working on a play about Cornelia. Their research led them to make contact with the family and Ghislaine put Charlotte in touch with the school.

Allegra compares a photo of herself with her great-great-great-great-grandmother, Cornelia Connelly.

However, Charlotte’s interest in Cornelia and her story goes back some time: she and Francesco met in Spain, where their respective parents were diplomats, representing their countries: Denmark and Italy. Charlotte’s best friend and later chief bridesmaid was (is) the daughter of the Spanish gentleman who bought St. Leonards, a former SHCJ school in England. Charlotte had heard about the ‘Cornelian’ connection from her mother-in-law, Simonetta, granddaughter of Frank Connelly, and when she heard that the property in St. Leonard’s was called ‘Holy Child College,’   she got even more interested.

Charlotte and Francesco have two daughters, Caterina and Allegra, aged 10 and 8, who attend school in London. Two years ago, Allegra had to do a project of her family tree. Assisted by her mother she did a lot of research and produced a very impressive book which she brought with her on her visit to Mayfield on Sunday, 26 March 2017.

Simonetta lives on the Island of Elba, and does not travel much now. However, when she heard of the planned Mayfield visit she made a special effort and came over to the UK. She knew that her grandmother, Marina Borghese, Frank’s daughter, had been to Mayfield ( in the late 1950’s).

She brought with her a rosary of Cornelia’s which she had been given by the Spanish owners of St. Leonard’s; this she presented to the School. It is planned to display it near Cornelia’s tomb.

Mayfield showed itself in glorious spring sunshine and flowers. The family arrived in time for the School’s Sunday Mass and were welcomed by the celebrant. This was followed by lunch in the ‘Courtyard’ where they were joined by Antonia Beary, Mayfield Headmistress, the SHCJ Community (Teresa Joseph, Jean and Maria) and three students who made friends with the children. After lunch the family were taken on a tour of the School, including the equestrian centre.

As Francesco said, it was ‘a memorable and emotional day for our 3 generations of descendants of Cornelia.’ A truly historic day as well.

In 2015, the SHCJ community at Mayfield were visited by Nancy and Tom Garson ( he is a great-great-great-nephew of Adeline Peacock Duval, Cornelia’s sister). Francesco did not know about the American family, but they have been put in touch!

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