Venerable Cornelia Connelly, Foundress of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus in 1846, lived in Grand Couteau, Louisiana, between 1838 and 1843. While she lived in Grand Coteau only five of her 70 years, it remains one of the most pivotal times in her life.
Cornelia, with her husband, Pierce, and their three children, settled in Grand Coteau, where she taught at the Academy of the Sacred Heart, and Pierce served on Saint Charles College's faculty. Despite their reduced circumstances and significant deprivations, they created a joyful family life, and their Catholic faith grew. Cornelia made her first spiritual retreat and acknowledged "conversion was accomplished." Family members visited, including Cornelia's sister Mary Frances Peacock, who remained with them and was received into the Catholic faith. Pierce once described Cornelia as "gay as a lark" in this remote and rural community.
The Connellys' time in Grand Coteau was not without tragedy. In July 1839, their fourth child, Mary Magdalen, died of illness six weeks after her birth. Seven months later, in February 1840, their third child, John Henry, died of burns after accidentally falling into a boiling sugar vat. Cornelia held her son for 43 hours until his death. Mary Magdalen and John Henry are buried together at Saint Charles Borromeo Cemetery in Grand Coteau.
By the fall of 1840, Pierce's calling to the Catholic priesthood intensified. On October 13, Pierce, while walking with Cornelia through Oak Alley on the Sacred Heart Sisters' campus, announced his intention to become a Catholic priest. At the time, Cornelia was pregnant with her fifth child. She asked Pierce to "think of it twice and with deliberate attention, but if the good God asks the sacrifice, I am ready to make it to Him and with all my heart."
During this time, Cornelia's sister Mary Frances was also contemplating religious life. In 1841, Mary Frances entered the Society of the Sacred Heart in Grand Coteau.
In May 1842, Pierce, with his eldest son, Mercer, traveled to England, where Mercer enrolled in boarding school. From England, Pierce journeyed to Rome, Italy, to enter the priesthood. Cornelia moved to Bishop's College, a home on the Sacred Heart Sisters' property in Grand Coteau and continued teaching at Sacred Heart Academy. At Bishop's College, Cornelia had permission to participate in all the religious exercises with the Sacred Heart Sisters.
In the summer of 1843, Cornelia left Grand Coteau and traveled with her two younger children, Adeline and Frank, to Rome, where she agreed to a separation from Pierce and a life of chastity.
Later in life, Cornelia reflected that it was in Grand Coteau that the Society of the Holy Child Jesus was founded on a "breaking heart."
To remember and honor Cornelia’s time in Grand Coteau, in the summer of 2020, the Society of the Holy Child Jesus installed a bench and plaque with her name and significant dates and planted a tree on the Sacred Heart Sisters' property.