The founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, Blessed Basil Moreau, was born in Laigné-en-Belin, in the diocese of Le Mans, France, on Feb. 11, 1799. In 1821, he was ordained a priest for the Diocese of LeMans, and later became a seminary professor teaching philosophy and theology while enthusiastically continuing pastoral duties.
He grew up amidst the turmoil of the French Revolution, and as a young priest he felt compelled to revitalize a Church devastated by years of civil war. With nearly two-thirds of France’s clergy and religious exiled or killed, Fr. Moreau organized a group of Auxiliary Priests to preach, teach and bring the message of Christ to those in neglected towns and villages.
In 1835, his bishop asked him also to oversee the Brothers of St Joseph, a recently founded group of educators. He merged the priests and the brothers by 1837. This association took its name from the town where it was based, Sainte-Croix, or Holy Cross.
Moreau’s vision was to complete and maximize the spiritual vigor of this association by modeling it after the Holy Family and bringing into it a group of laywomen also involved in education and evangelization. Moreau gave to each of the three groups a patron: he consecrated the priests to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the brothers to the pure heart of St. Joseph, and the sisters to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. He also established Mary, under her title of Our Lady of Sorrows, as patroness for all of Holy Cross.
Soon the Church outside of France began seeking the assistance of Fr. Moreau’s fledgling congregation. He sent priests, brothers and sisters to other countries, including Algeria, the United States, Canada, and Bangladesh. The Holy See officially declared Moreau’s group to be a religious congregation—the Congregation of Holy Cross—in 1857. It was required that the sisters break off from this congregation of priests and brothers, and the sisters were later approved as separate congregations.
Later, amid crises and controversies in the Congregation, Moreau resigned as superior general. He lived his last days estranged from his community but remained active preaching missions until his health failed. The Marianites cared for him until his final days, when Moreau died in Le Mans on Jan. 20, 1873.
Fr. Basil Moreau, C.S.C., was beatified, by order of Pope Benedict XVI, on September 15, 2007, the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, in Le Mans, France. Blessed Basil Moreau remains an inspiration to men and women who live his vision of “bringing hope to others” in more than 15 countries throughout the world. Work continues today on his cause for canonization.