Cornelia Connelly: Plan to move nun's remains to US abandoned

By Harry Farley
BBC News

image copyrightSociety of the Holy Child Jesus CIO
image captionCornelia Connelly became a nun after her husband Pierce joined the priesthood

Plans to transfer the remains of a nun who is under consideration for a sainthood from a Sussex school to the US have been abandoned amid opposition.

Mother Cornelia Connelly was declared "venerable" by the Vatican in 1992, the first step towards sainthood.

It had said her remains could be moved to Philadelphia, her birthplace.

But more than 300 people objected to her remains being moved from Mayfield School, the independent Catholic girls' school which she founded.

Sue Gaisford of Mayfield School's Cornelian Association, who led a campaign against the transfer, said there was "much relief and gratitude" that the plans had been abandoned.

"Cornelia restored the chapel in the 1860s and it became the mother house and hub of the teaching order she founded, the Society of the Holy Child Jesus," she told the BBC.

"Her philosophy, the Cornelian spirit, still pervades both school and chapel.

"She specifically asked to be buried at Mayfield, and today's decision will ensure that her body will remain undisturbed and a focus for prayer and pilgrimage for many years to come."

A statement from The Society of the Holy Child Jesus confirmed the "decision has been made to withdraw the application" for Mother Connelly's exhumation. A source told the BBC the decision had been made by the society's leadership in Rome.

A spokeswoman for the school said: "Our wish was always for Cornelia Connelly to remain undisturbed, but the decision was not ours to make and we have always made clear that we would abide by the final outcome."

Who was Mother Connelly?

Cornelia Connelly was born in Philadelphia in 1809.

She married and had five children before her husband, Pierce Connelly, converted to Catholicism and decided to become a priest.

She supported him, even though it meant the end of their marriage. She went on to convert to Catholicism herself, later becoming a nun and taking a "vow of perpetual chastity".

But her husband later renounced his priesthood and kidnapped their children, refusing to let Cornelia see them.

After years of heartache she moved to England and devoted herself to education, founding Mayfield School in 1872.

At the end of her life she asked to be buried there.

image copyrightOld Cornelians??? Association

'Macabre' proposal

The bid to exhume her remains was made earlier this month by the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, who applied to Catholic Historic Churches earlier this month.

The aim was to remove a portion of her body and transfer it to a new home at Philadelphia Catholic Cathedral.

A statement on the cathedral's website said Mother Connelly's "sacred remains" would "soon will be translated from England to a new tomb in our Cathedral Basilica".

The practice of gathering a saint's relics is sometimes practised within Catholicism as a means of furthering their cause, though the Cornelian Association of former pupils described the proposal as "macabre".

It said in a statement to the Catholic newspaper The Tablet: "The gathering of relics, even of saints (which, officially, Cornelia is not) is virtually obsolete and seldom practised in the modern Church. Most people now regard it as a distasteful mediaeval custom".

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