In 1851, Propaganda Fide, the Vatican congregation that oversees the Church’s missionary work, asked Blessed Basil Moreau if Holy Cross would assume responsibility for the Church’s mission in East Bengal. Whereas other congregations had refused because of the region’s poverty and difficult climate, Moreau accepted. After the first group to set sail was forced to turn back in December 1852 due to a storm, a second group of priests, brothers, and sisters arrived to Calcutta on May 20, 1853. They made their way to Dhaka and Noakhali by June.
From the beginning, the work of Holy Cross in East Bengal was marked by crosses, including many deaths due to disease and natural disasters. The Congregation persevered, sending successive generations of missionaries from France and North America. This perseverance bore fruit in the establishment of the local Church and the evangelization of the tribal peoples.
Although Christians constitute a small minority (about 0.3%) in this predominantly Muslim country, the Congregation is well-known and respected especially with regard to the many educational institutions.
Notre Dame College in Dhaka, founded in 1949, is the premier institution of secondary education in the country. The excellence of the college’s education moved the government and Church in Bangladesh to petition Holy Cross to found a university in the country, and Notre Dame University Bangladesh held its first classes on December 7, 2014. The Congregation also administers over a dozen high schools and trade schools.
While educating some of the elite, the Congregation has a long history of educating and 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.
The work of the Congregation of Holy Cross continues to be carried out today by the Sacred Heart of Jesus Province of Priests and the St. Joseph Province of Brothers.
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