Cornelia Connelly and the Church Year
Sr. Jeanne - June 1, 2016
Every year the feasts of Pentecost, the Blessed Trinity, and Corpus Christi, and the Sacred Heart arrive on the calendar very near to Commencement, week after week. I noticed that fact many, many years ago when I was a student myself. Those feast days were a sign summer was close at last! Then as a young Religion teacher, I missed the chance to talk with students about these feasts since they were either gone or on the way out. If still there due to an early Easter, they were not willing to humor me telling them how deeply the Spirit lived within them and how amazing – to believe in one God with three natures, yet united and connected as one Love. A love so great that only a God could imagine how to remain and always be with us through the Eucharist, long after the Ascension and through the image of a loving heart!
These big feasts were also not lost on Cornelia Connelly, a century or two before me. Her schools celebrated the feast of Pentecost big time with a holiday the Monday after the feast. The children chose the site for the whole convent and school to take a picnic for the day! One particular year they visited the ruins of the abandoned Palace of the Archbishops of Canterbury in Mayfield. It was then and there Cornelia was challenged by her wealthy and unpredictable friend, the Duchess Louisa of Leeds, to restore these Mayfield ruins and open a school for young women. Undoubtedly she drew strength and courage from the Holy Spirit at that moment and took up the task. Undaunted by the humongous challenge, she raised funds all over Europe through auctions and raffles. Today, the restored buildings are the heart of a most prestigious boarding/day school in England, the Mayfield/St. Leonard’s School.
On the feast of Corpus Christi, Cornelia had the students celebrate the gift of the Eucharist with a special procession all over the grounds of the property at St. Leonard’s by the sea. Such a display of processing children amid garlands and garlands of flowers was not appreciated by the local bishops, which of course did not deter Cornelia. I imagine she invited them to participate in the long walk and celebrate together back at the convent.
A favorite quote of Cornelia at this season of the Church year was, “Give the Holy Spirit many smiles today…” And again re Eucharist: “Be willing to sit before the Lord more willing to listen than to speak…” Also, “Unite your heart with the heart of God.” As we move into summer weeks may there be opportunity for many smiles during vacation and time with family and friends. May we also take time to sit more ready to listen than to speak! May we experience the depth of God’s love. Then as Cornelia reminds as we prepare for the fall semester, “Let us never say we have done enough!”