“I am convinced that Providence, which has in the past done everything necessary for the development and perfection of its work, will continue to bestow on it most abundant blessings. To ensure this, we must be constantly animated by the spirit of zeal and generosity which so holy an undertaking requires.” — Blessed Basil Moreau, Circular Letter 9
In the last decade of the 18th century, the French Revolution brought upheaval to all of French society, including the Church. Church property was seized, priests were arrested and executed, and religious communities were expelled from France. The departure of many religious also meant the departure of many teachers. Children in the countryside of northwestern France received little or no education in general, let alone in matters of faith.
In response to this need, Fr. Jacques Dujarié, who had been an underground seminarian during the height of the French Revolution, began to gather young men to instruct youth. He began with four young men, sending them out to the countryside under the direction of local pastors to educate children in the faith that had gone untaught for a generation. These young men became the Brothers of St. Joseph.
As Fr. Dujarié grew in age and his health declined, he agreed, with approval from the bishop, to turn over the leadership of the brothers in 1835 to a young and energetic priest of the Diocese of Le Mans named Basil Moreau.
By this time, Blessed Basil Moreau, who had been ordained in 1821, had already organized a group of “Auxiliary Priests” to travel around the diocese preaching parish missions to help educate people in the faith. He merged these priests with the Brothers of St. Joseph in 1837 and named this new group after the neighborhood in Le Mans where the group was formed – Sainte Croix or Holy Cross. That is why Holy Cross Priests and Brothers have the letters “CSC” after their names. This comes from the Latin name for the order, Congregatio a Sancta Cruce, which literally means the Congregation “at” Holy Cross.
Several years later Blessed Moreau would add a group of laywomen to Holy Cross in 1841. Together his vision, which was ahead of his time in the Church, was that they would comprise one holy family — modeled on the Holy Family of Jesus, Joseph, and Mary. He further established Our Lady of Sorrows as the patroness of the entire congregation.
The work of Holy Cross as educators in the faith was to encompass education, parish, and mission. Within a few short years of founding Holy Cross, Blessed Moreau sent his priests, brothers and sisters from France to Algeria, the United States, Canada, and East Bengal (present-day India and Bangladesh).
Over these years, Blessed Moreau also continued to work tirelessly for Vatican approval of his new community, and that approbation finally came in 1857 when Rome accepted the first Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross.
As apostolic priests and brothers, our consecrated lives are at the service of the apostolate - our schools, parishes and missions. Not bound by a cloister, we go forth with zeal to make God known, loved, and served and thus save souls. This rich spiritual heritage that we have inherited from our holy founder has born great fruit and it sustains us in our work today.
The motto of the Congregation of Holy Cross and the core of our spirituality is Ave Crux, Spes Unica – Hail the Cross, Our Only Hope. We live and minister as "men with hope to bring" out of the conviction that by His Holy Cross, Jesus has redeemed the world.
To read more about the Congregation Of Holy Cross' charism and spirituality, check out this series by Seminarian Brian Vetter, C.S.C.: Part One: Vows and Religious Life, Part Two: The Cross, Our Hope