Robert John Cornell

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Robert John Cornell, O Praem
Robert John Cornell.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Wisconsin's 8th district
In office
January 3, 1975 – January 3, 1979
Preceded by Harold Vernon Froehlich
Succeeded by Toby Roth
Personal details
Born December 16, 1919
Gladstone, Michigan
Died May 10, 2009 (aged 89)
St. Norbert Abbey, De Pere, Wisconsin
Political party Democratic
Occupation Roman Catholic priest

Robert John Cornell, O Praem (December 16, 1919 – May 10, 2009) was a Roman Catholic priest and American politician who served as a member of the United States House of Representatives from Wisconsin from 1975 to 1979.[1]

Robert John Cornell was born in Gladstone, Michigan, and attended parochial schools in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He earned his B.A. from St. Norbert College (De Pere, Wisconsin) in 1941 and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from The Catholic University of America (CUA) in 1957. On June 17, 1944, he was ordained a priest of the Norbertine Order after six years in the order.

Cornell taught social sciences in parochial schools in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from 1941 to 1947. He taught at St. Norbert High School, Abbot Pennings High School and St. Norbert College. He was a professor of history and political science at St. Norbert College from 1947 to 1974, and again from 1979 until his death in 2009.

He was the chairman of the Eighth Congressional District of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin from 1969 to 1974, and was a member of the State Administrative Committee of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin from 1969 to 1974.

Cornell was elected as a member of the Democratic Party from Wisconsin's 8th congressional district in 1974, to the 94th United States Congress, defeating freshman Republican Harold Vernon Froehlich to become the first Democrat to represent this district in 30 years, and only the fourth to represent this district or its predecessors (it was the 9th District prior to 1933) in the 20th century. He was reelected in 1976 to the 95th Congress, becoming the first Democrat to win a second term in what is now the 8th in 62 years. However, he lost to State Assemblyman Toby Roth in 1978 in a bid for the 96th Congress. In 1980, he decided to seek a rematch against Roth, but abandoned his bid when the Vatican ordered all priests to withdraw from politics.

He was the second (after Father Robert Drinan) and last Roman Catholic priest to serve as a voting representative in the United States Congress.[2]

Cornell lived in De Pere, Wisconsin, until his death at the age of 89 in 2009.[3][4][5] "I lived my life for the two greatest things in this world, my God and my country," he said during a speech he made at St. Norbert College.[6]


  1. ^ Robert Cornell biodata
  2. ^ Martin, Douglas (May 12, 2009). "Robert J. Cornell, Priest Who Served as Congressman, Is Dead at 89". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-05-17. At the time of Father Drinan’s death in 2007, the Catholic News Service reported that a third Catholic priest, Father Gabriel Richard, was a nonvoting delegate from the Michigan territory from 1823 to 1825. 
  3. ^ Obituary for Father Robert John Cornell, O. Praem.
  4. ^ "Former eighth district congressman dies". Archived from the original on July 11, 2011. Retrieved 2009-05-11. 
  5. ^ Notice of Father Cornell's death[dead link]
  6. ^ CNS STORY: Retired priest recalls small 'club' of priests in Congress

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Harold Vernon Froehlich
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Wisconsin's 8th congressional district

January 3, 1975 - January 3, 1979
Succeeded by
Toby Roth