The Congregation of Holy Cross maintains its oldest-surviving mission effort outside of North America in Bangladesh. Through the Holy Cross Mission Center, the United States Province continues to support the Congregation’s work in Bangladesh, specifically with the Sacred Heart of Jesus Province.
Holy Cross Founder, Rev. Basil Moreau, C.S.C., sent the first Holy Cross missionaries from France in 1853 to northeast Bengal — now Bangladesh. They faced an uphill battle with language, culture, climate and disease in an isolated region of the country. Building on Blessed Moreau’s vision of Holy Cross Religious as “educators in the faith,” the Congregation responded to the population’s urgent education and health care needs by establishing schools and dispensaries at each mission outpost.
The Congregation also persevered in solidarity with the people during the conflicts that arose between India and Pakistan following the partition of British India in 1947. When the Bangladesh Liberation War broke out in 1971, leading to the creation of Bangladesh as a sovereign nation, Holy Cross helped minister to the millions displaced by the fighting.
For over the first century of the mission, the Congregation directed vocations to the local dioceses. Several who did join the Congregation were chosen to become bishops, including Servant of God, Bishop Theotonius Ganguly. With the local Church firmly established in the 1970s, the Congregation began accepting vocations in earnest. Today, Holy Cross continues to grow through the Final Professions and Ordinations of many Bangladeshi brothers and priests.
Although Christians constitute a small minority (about 0.3%) in this predominantly Muslim country, the Congregation is well-known and respected.
While educating some of the elite, the Congregation has a long history of advocating on behalf of the dignity and rights of the poor. In many ways, the work of Servant of God, Br. Flavian Laplante, C.S.C., epitomizes the Congregation’s outreach. He organized the fishermen in the coastal area near Chittagong into cooperatives and built an orphanage and schools for them.
Notre Dame College in Dhaka was established in 1949 and today is recognized as one of the country’s premier education institutions for the level between high school and four-year degree schools. It is nationally recognized for providing stellar academics in a politically neutral environment.
Continuing to build upon the Holy Cross education tradition in Bangladesh, the Sacred Heart of Jesus Province received approval from the Bangladeshi government to establish Notre Dame University in Dhaka in April 2013. The coeducational university will use the College’s facilities until enough funding is raised to complete construction of its own facilities. The Holy Cross Mission Center is assisting the Province with its fundraising needs.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus Province also maintains a technical school, sewing center, literacy school, orphanage for boys, a clinic and is constructing a second school — Notre Dame College Mymensingh, which is on pace to open in July 2014. The cornerstone for the college, which will be the first Catholic college in the Diocese of Mymensingh, was laid on March 1, 2013. In Bangladesh, Holy Cross has 13 parishes – including 10 tribal parishes – and educates thousands of children in this largely Islamic country.
The Pastoral Center at Bhadun, in a beautiful rural area not far from Dhaka, was constructed simply to serve as a home for meetings and retreats. It is close to five Catholic churches. The center has grown and is ready to expand into an actual retreat facility. The Province has a second pastoral center at Barisal.
Rev. James Cruze, C.S.C., is the Provincial of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Province was formed following the joining of the Indiana Province in Chittagong and the French-Canadian Priest Province in 1984. The area officially became a Province of Holy Cross in 1998.
Family Rosary International is also present in Bangladesh helping thousands of new Christians become stronger in their faith through prayer and the Rosary.