Congregation of Holy Cross

The Holy Cross Story

In the period following the French Revolution, Basil Anthony Moreau, a priest of the diocese of Le Mans, was overseeing a group of priests who taught in seminaries and preparatory schools. Moreau joined with Fr. Jacques Dujarié and the Brothers of St. Joseph, who were teaching in small parishes and schools in rural France, to become what we know today as the Congregation of Holy Cross.

For the sake of their common mission as educators in the faith, Moreau joined the Brothers of St. Joseph and Auxiliary Priests on 1 March 1837, in the Fundamental Act of Union. The newly established Association of Holy Cross took its name from the Saint-Croix neighborhood in Le Mans in which it was formed.

Sisters, Brothers and Priests

Moreau’s vision for Holy Cross was not complete until 1841 when he founded a group of sisters to work with the brothers and the priests. Moreau envisioned the sisters, brothers, and priests of Holy Cross comprising one holy family in imitation of the Holy Family.

Uniting priests and brothers into a single association was unique for the Church.  In 1838, they would be joined by a group of laywomen who provided domestic services for the priests and brothers and would later serve as educators. At Sainte-Croix (Holy Cross), a suburb of Le Mans, the three groups would form a single religious congregation composed of three autonomous societies.

On 15 August 1840, Basil Moreau publicly professed vows as a religious of the Congregation of Sainte-Croix, or Holy Cross.

The priests, brothers and sisters became known as the Salvatorists, Josephites and Marianites of Holy Cross, reflecting “a visible imitation of the Holy Family.” Moreau saw their union as “a powerful lever with which to move, direct and sanctify the whole world.” The motherhouse and church, dedicated to Our Lady of Holy Cross, served as the symbol and center of this union.

The Mission of Holy Cross

Father Moreau saw the Association of Holy Cross as an apostolic religious community serving the frontier church of France, other countries of Europe, Africa and North America as well as to Eastern Bengal, then a part of India.

In 1855, The Vatican directed the men and women of Holy Cross to separate into independent groups. A year later, the brothers and priests would organize into a shared governmental structure, focusing upon preaching the word of God and Christian education. Their focus was primarily in rural and foreign missions training poor and abandoned children primarily in agriculture and the trades.

Growing Pains

Due to internal disagreements within the Congregation, Father Moreau would step down as superior general in 1866. Estranged from most of the community to which he had given his life, he resumed a preaching ministry of his own. It was the Marianites who stood by him most loyally during his later years and who were with him when he died on 20 January 1873.

The women of Holy Cross would eventually evolve into three independent congregations: the Marianites (1867), the Sisters of the Holy Cross (1869) and the Sisters of Holy Cross and of the Seven Dolors (1883; since 1981, the Sisters of Holy Cross).

New World, New Ministries

After Moreau’s death, the priests and brothers of Holy Cross shifted their efforts to education ministries in the United States and Canada, experiencing a steady growth in the number of men entering as members of the Congregation. Following World War II, Holy Cross returned to Africa and expanded its presence in Latin America. The international mission of the community evolved from establishing new churches to assisting the development of indigenous churches.

Following the Second Vatican Council, after two decades of deliberations, a revised set of constitutions were published by the general chapter of 1986 that returned more closely to the ideal of Basil Moreau, that of a group of religious priests and religious brothers called to live in common, embarking upon ministries in concert with the sisters in Holy Cross. Holy Cross has endured in its own distinctive way of serving.