An Excerpt from “The History of the Congregation of Holy Cross,” by James T. Connelly C.S.C.

In 1837, Basile Moreau, C.S.C., founded the Congregation of Holy Cross (C.S.C.), a community of Catholic priests and brothers, to minister to and educate the people of France devastated by the French Revolution. During the centuries that followed, the Congregation expanded its mission around the globe to educate and evangelize, including the establishment in 1842 of the Congregation’s first educational institution in America—the University of Notre Dame. The History of the Congregation of Holy Cross (December 2020), written by the skilled historian and archivist James T. Connelly, C.S.C., offers the first complete history of the Congregation, covering nearly two centuries from 1820 to 2018.

From Chapter Seven: “A Time of Trial: France, 1857-68

In January 1873 Basile Moreau lay dying in his sister’s house in the Sainte-Croix quarter of Le Mans, just across the street from the Institut Notre-Dame de Sainte-Croix, formerly the motherhouse of the Congregation of Holy Cross, which he had founded and which was no longer the property of the Congregation. He was the only member of the Congregation still residing in Le Mans. He had been living with his sister, Victoire, in her narrow house on the Rue de la Presche, just across the street from the former mother house which had been sold in 1869. The Marianite Sisters of Holy Cross provided his meals and his nephew, Father Charles Moreau, who had resigned from the Congregation in 1868, was often with him. To describe how Basile Moreau found himself in that situation only sixteen years after the crowning achievements of 1857 is to tell the story of the decline of the Congregation of Holy Cross in France in that same interval.

When Basile Moreau returned to France in October 1857 from his visitation of the Holy Cross missions in North America, he might well have thought that the difficult foundational years of the Congregation of Holy Cross were behind him. Except for the houses in Louisiana, which he had been unable to visit, he had seen for himself that the houses of the community in Canada and the United States were up and running. If financial resources were stretched thin, the North American foundations were doing well at recruiting new members and they were managing to pay their bills and even to expand their activities. He had arranged the separation of the temporal affairs of the Marianites of Sainte-Croix from those of the men in Canada. Although he had not succeeded in doing this in Indiana, he had at least launched the process there, or so he believed.

In the twenty years since the Fundamental Act of 1837, the Congregation of Holy Cross had grown to 72 Priests and 322 Brothers working in 102 houses on four continents. The Marianite Sisters, numbering 254, were by the order of the Vatican organized as a separate religious congregation. They were working with the men of Holy Cross everywhere except in the Papal States and in Algeria. In France alone, the men’s Congregation had grown to 214 members, 38 Priests and 181 Brothers, the largest the community would ever be in France. They were conducting three secondary schools and sixty-seven primary schools. The purchase of the College of Sainte-Marie des Ternes in the Paris suburb of Neuilly in 1857 had given the Congregation a presence in the capital and the prospect of a flourishing institution.

In January of the following year, 1858, Moreau appointed Sister Marie-des-Sept-Douleurs as superior general of the Sisters; the first general chapter of the Marianites in 1860 elected her to the office. In April 1858, Moreau won a lawsuit that had challenged the will of Mademoiselle Périer-Dubignon which bestowed on him a legacy, mostly of real estate, worth some three hundred thousand francs, funds that would be very useful in reducing the debts of the mother house in Le Mans. In June 1858, a small religious community of five priests and six Brothers, the Missionaires de Notre Dame de l’Espérance, which conducted a college in the city of Saint-Brieuc in Brittany, asked to join the Congregation of Holy Cross and was merged with Moreau’s community. On November 25, 1860, Father Pierre Dufal, the superior of the Holy Cross mission in India, was ordained a bishop in the conventual church at Sainte-Croix, the first member of Moreau’s young community to be enrolled in the ranks of the hierarchy. By 1860, only twenty-three years after he had joined together the Brothers of St. Joseph and the Auxiliary Priests of Le Mans, Basile Moreau had ample reason to believe that his work was being crowned with success and that the next few years would be even more productive.

All of these reasons for optimism notwithstanding, Basile Moreau was about to enter into a period of trial and tribulation in his life that would lead to his resignation as superior general of his Congregation in 1866 and to the loss to the community of its mother house, the school and the conventual church at Sainte-Croix.


This blog post is part of the Enriching Scholarly Communication and Connections through Notre Dame Press project and has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this post do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at www.neh.gov.

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