The Society was founded in England in 1840 by Mrs. Cornelia Connelly, née Peacock, a native of Philadelphia, U.S.A. who had become a convert to the Catholic Faith in 1835. The society was approved in 1887 by Leo XIII, and the rules and constitutions were confirmed and ratified by the same pontiff in 1893. The constitutions are founded on those of St. Ignatius. The principal object of the society is the education and instruction of females of all classes, whether in day-schools, boarding-schools, orphanages, or colleges for higher education. The religious undertake the instruction of converts, and visiting of the sick and poor, when these works do not interfere with the primary duty of teaching; ladies may be received into houses of the society as boardersor for the purpose of making retreats. The society is governed by a superior general whose ordinary residence is at the mother-house, Mayfied, England, and who is assisted by a provincial or provincials. America is at present the only province. The superior general is elected by a chapter consisting of representatives of the whold order and her term of office lasts six years.
The first house of the society was founded at Derby, England, in 1846, but the community was shortly afterwards transferred to St. Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex, at the advice of Cardinal Wiseman. Here the religious have since built a fine church and schools. The ruins of "The Old Palace", Mayfied, Sussex, with the farm adjacent were given to the Society in 1863 by Louise, Dowager Duchess of Leeds, nee Caton, one of the grandaughters of Charles Carroll of Carrollton. She also made over to Mrs. Connelly a farm in Towanda, Penn., and two thousand acres of land in Lycoming Co., on condition that a branch of the society should be established in America. Accordingly five sisters came over in 1862 and opened a school at Towanda. This undertaking proved unsuccessful, and the community was removed to Philadelphia, and settled in Spring Garden Street.. Here they were put in charge of the academy and parochial schools in connection with the Church of the Assumption, whose rector, the Rev. C. Carter, befriended the society in America in every possible way. In 1864 he made over to the religious the house and farm of the old Quaker establishment at Sharon Hill, seven miles from the city of Philadelphia; and this became the seat of the novitiate and of a flourishing boarding-school. The society now numbers in England nine houses and many schools for all classes, and more than four thousand children are taught by the sisters in the city of Preston alone, in which city there is also a centre for the education of pupil-teachers. A college for the training of teachers of secondary schools was opened in Cavendish Square, London, in 1896 by invitation and under the special patronage of Cardinal Vaughan . A house has also been founded at Oxford. A convent of the order at Neuilly, Paris, shared the common fate of all religious houses in France, and was closed by order of the French Government in 1904. In America the society possesses houses in Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, Nebraska, and Wyoming.
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