Sister Cornelia, OSH

Dear Friends in Christ,

We ask that you join us in celebrating the well-lived life of Cornelia Montgomery Ransom, a woman who made her life vows to God in the Episcopal Order of Saint Helena 45 years ago. Sister Cornelia died at 12:30 am on Tuesday, November 27, 2012, from the cumulative effects of Parkinson’s Disease. Her funeral and burial will take place on Saturday, December 1 at 11:00 at the convent, 3042 Eagle Drive, Augusta, Georgia 30906-3326 (706-798-5201 ext 1). Rooms in our guest house are available at no charge for out-of-town guests. Memorial contributions may be made to the “Order of St. Helena” new convent building fund.

If Cornelia were asked, she would say she is survived by “many, many cousins.” We especially want to honor her cousin Louise Ransom and her nieces Kate Shattuck and Kathryn Montgomery.

The Sisters of St. Helena thank the many professionals involved in Cornelia’s care: Dr Kapil Sethi of Georgia Health Sciences Neurology Department, Dr Jonathan Reimer and the staff of the nursing home at The Place at Martinez, and the nurses and doctors at Doctor’s Hospital, Augusta.

Cornelia on a walk at Green Bough House of Prayer, Georgia, March 2010

Now for the story! As you’ll see reading on, Cornelia devoted her life to serving God through serving others – her OSH community and people around the world. In her last few days of this life, she gave another sister a yarn and bead rosary and wanted it put with the other prayer beads she used for teaching children to pray.

Cornelia has been a leader, mentor, teacher and staunch believer in the role of women in society. A math major and Alumnae Award recipient at Wells College, Cornelia began teaching math at Sr. Mary’s School for Indian Girls in Springfield, South Dakota, and then taught at St. Andrew’s Priory School for Girls in Honolulu. While in Hawaii, she tried the business world but felt something deeply spiritual was missing from her life. Always the nature-lover, Cornelia often said one of her most difficult life decisions was leaving beautiful Hawaii. However, in 1962 she entered the Episcopal Order of St. Helena, making her life vow in 1967.

Sister Cornelia at her Life Profession

From 1968 to 1972 Sister Cornelia lived in Bolahun, Liberia, where she taught in the schools operated by the Order of the Holy Cross brothers and administered the girls’ boarding residence. In 1973 she became the sister-in-charge of the Convent of St Helena in Vails Gate, New York, while continuing teaching in a drug rehabilitation center. In 1975 she became sister-in-charge of the Convent of St. Helena in Nassau, Bahamas, and was head of the Math Department at St. Anne’s School.

Over the next ten years, Cornelia taught math and ministered to religious communities in Puerto Rico, Haiti, and the Bahamas. Back in New York City, she began her study of Cantonese and worked at the Church of Our Savior in Chinatown. She also taught English to Cambodian immigrant women.

Cornelia with Bahamian Associates Lorraine and Swithun Burrows, October 2012

Among the changes brought to Christianity by Vatican II, the Order of St. Helena embraced especially the new opportunities for women. Elected Superior of the Order in 1985, 1989 and 1993, Sister Cornelia led the community in changing its governance from an authoritarian hierarchy to a collegial group of four sisters acting in consensus as a Leadership Council. Cornelia said of her experience as the Order’s last Superior, “I always made it a point to have a relationship with each sister.”

As well as her pressing duties as Superior, Cornelia continued to travel and work in Europe, Asia, Africa and the US, leading to her nickname, “the flying nun.” Because of her unique administrative talents, she was invited to visit other communities to consult and recommend changes. For one of her great passions, the Ecumenical Movement within Christian Churches, Cornelia attended ecumenical conferences in Rome and Canterbury, England.

Teaching Sunday School at Church of Our Savior, New York

Having always begun her day in meditation and prayer in the still-dark of the chapel, and at heart being very much the contemplative, Sister Cornelia’s focus shifted in the mid-1990’s. She began offering spiritual direction, often with seminary students at the General Theological Seminary in New York City, and conducting retreats. She also taught Sunday school for children at the Church of Our Savior in Chinatown, where she was much loved by all.

September 11, 2001 changed everything for everyone, and Sister Cornelia was no exception. During the dismantling of the Twin Towers, she spent every Sunday at Ground Zero in St. Paul’s Chapel, which was open only to rescue workers inside the site. She was a pastoral presence, someone in whom the workers could confide. Cornelia had a special gift for easing others into a kind of conversational healing, both spiritually and emotionally. Many considered her a quiet but very powerful presence. One fire department worker who was on the job every day from September until June credited Cornelia with providing the motivation to help his crew effect over 400 recoveries. Other workers found Cornelia’s sense of humor a godsend. (Just three days before she died, Cornelia was making jokes. The sister with her in ER said at one point, “Cornelia, you look like you’re ready for some sleep.” Cornelia opened one eye and retorted, “I’m not gonna miss a thing!”)

Cornelia has continued to touch lives since her diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease and her moving with the entire community to Augusta in 2008. Twice she traveled to teach math to children at the Holy Cross school in South Africa. She led her last retreat during Lent in 2009, with the Holy Spirit powerfully touching the life of one of our Associates in a matter of great forgiveness.

Cornelia has and always will touch the lives of the sisters who have been fortunate to know her. Please join us with your presence or in your spirit in honoring this holy, powerful-for-good woman, our Sister Cornelia, OSH.

The Sisters of St. Helena

PS – Rather than list all our names, please see our most recent community photograph at

Sister Cornelia in Grahamstown, South Africa with several Order of The Holy Cross brothers and friends, November 2010

Sister Cornelia in Grahamstown, South Africa with several Order of The Holy Cross brothers and friends, November 2010

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