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Father Basile Moreau: France's Blessed Teacher
By Dan E. Pitre
Basile Moreau, C.S.C., founded a worldwide congregation devoted to schools such as the University of Notre Dame and St. Mary's College.


One Family
Humble Beginnings
The Society Grows
Repairing Reputations
Legacy Bears Fruit
Serving God by Serving People


VENERABLE Father Basile Antoine-Marie Moreau, C.S.C., will be beatified this month, and if he is later canonized, he might be considered the patron saint of learning. Education is the lasting legacy of this French priest who founded the Congregation of Holy Cross.

His order is renowned for the institutions of learning that it established to help enrich the minds and hearts of the faithful and spread the word of Christ in honor of Our Lady around the world.

With zeal and determination, Father Moreau built his congregation from a small group of priests into a dynamic organization with three branches. More than 3,000 men and women religious are devoted to the spiritual renewal of the Church, Christian education of youth and charity among the poor.

Today, the Congregation of Holy Cross serves in 15 countries and on four continents. It was all part of Father Moreau’s dream to build an order dedicated to minds and souls, though he was humble in spirit.

“He led a simple and austere life, willingly adding acts of penance to those already prescribed by Church discipline,” wrote Cardinal Joseph Saraiva Martins in Decretum Super Virtutibus for Father Moreau’s beatification. “With patience and the deepest spirit of humility, he endured innumerable adversities and illnesses.”

One Family

Father Moreau believed in a spirituality that was ahead of his time and serves as a guiding light in this modern era. He encouraged his followers to look beyond the extravagances of the material world and seek the soothing calm of God’s holy realm.

“Our founder, Basile Moreau, engaged the modern epoch and brought to bear a spirituality for our times,” says Father Hugh W. Cleary, C.S.C., superior general of the Congregation of Holy Cross in Rome.

“He believed in faith in the teaching of Jesus as revealing the true and ultimate meaning of life, healing hope in an age of injustice and passionate love through a prayerful breathing of God’s very own Spirit.”

Father Robert J. Kruse, C.S.C., an authority on Father Moreau, believes the Holy Cross founder envisioned one large family. “In his own life and work in founding a religious community, Father Moreau was influenced by the idea that priests, brothers and sisters constituted the family of Jesus,” Father Kruse says.

“He wanted religious and laity to be equal partners. The way he fostered collaboration between them made him a pioneer in his own time and a model for our own.”

Father Moreau was driven by a religious fervor to spread the word of Christ to all those who would listen. He equated it to “a flame of burning desire which one feels to make God known and served and thus save souls.” This vision would guide him as he built the congregation. It would strengthen him after he left the order.

“Our zeal is always guided by charity, everything is done with strength and gentleness,” Father Moreau wrote in 1855: “strength because we are courageous and unshakable in the midst of pain, difficulty and trials...and with gentleness because we have the tenderness of our Divine Model.”


Humble Beginnings

The man who would become blessed— one step from being a saint—started from very humble beginnings during a tumultuous time in France. Basile Antoine-Marie Moreau was born in Laignden-Belin, near Le Mans, on February 11, 1799, at the end of the French Revolution. He was the ninth of 14 children. His parents, Louis and Louise, were farmers. His father was also a wholesale wine merchant.

Moreau’s parish priest recognized his potential at an early age and encouraged him to study for the priesthood. He entered the College of Chàteau-Gontier and later the seminary at Le Mans, studying philosophy and theology. Moreau was ordained a priest on August 12, 1821, and then went to the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice in Paris for two more years of study.

As a young priest, Father Moreau was concerned with the decline of the Church in France. The ravages of the Revolution and subsequent rise of Napoleon Bonaparte had reduced the institution to mere figurehead status. He believed the Church needed to be proactive by reestablishing itself in the lives of the French people.

While teaching at the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice, Father Moreau recognized a need for deeper spiritual enrichment in the rural areas of the Diocese of Le Mans. In 1835, he formed a group of auxiliary priests to preach at parish missions and retreats across the countryside.

At about the same time, his bishop, understanding Father Moreau’s energetic drive and organizational abilities, asked him to take control of a teaching order—the Brothers of St. Joseph—founded 15 years earlier by Father Jacques Dujarie.

Two years later, Father Moreau established the Congregation of Holy Cross by joining the two groups into a single unit with the aim of providing quality education and evangelizing the country parishes.

His new order was originally recognized by Rome as Congregatio a Santa Cruce—the Congregation of Holy Cross. Its name comes from the small neighborhood of Sainte-Croix, near Le Mans, where Father Moreau served as a priest.

“The name of his new religious community was, in a sense, an accident of geography,” Father Kruse says. “But Father Moreau would have seen this as providential. He believed strongly in the mystery of the Cross, which became an essential part of his life. In America, the community has consistently been known as the Congregation of Holy Cross.”

Today, religious members of the congregation bear the initials “C.S.C.” after their names, relating back to the original Latin designation.

The Society Grows

As Holy Cross flourished, Father Moreau embarked on a mission to spread the Word around the world. In 1840, a small group of religious was sent to Africa. The next year, another group went to the United States. In 1847, the congregation expanded into Canada and then in 1853 to what is today known as Bangladesh.

The societies of priests and brothers, then known as Salvatorists and Josephites in the Congregation of Holy Cross, received final approbation by the Holy See in 1857. The sisters, known as the Marianites of Holy Cross, were approved 10 years later.

In 1859, the Marianites in Indiana received autonomy and became the Sisters of the Holy Cross. In 1883, the Marianites in Canada were granted autonomy and became known as the Sisters of Holy Cross.

In addition to spreading the gospel in rural regions and foreign missions, charity was an important part of the Congregation of Holy Cross. Father Moreau opened an orphanage in Rome at the request of Blessed Pope Pius IX, who conferred on him the title of Apostolic Missionary.

As Father Moreau’s congregation grew in North and South America, Asia and Africa, Father Moreau embarked on his dream of building a church as a spiritual home for his followers. The gothic edifice in Le Mans was dedicated in 1857 as Notre-Dame de Sainte-Croix (Our Lady of Holy Cross).

Father Moreau sought to build his congregation on unity. “In union there is strength; dissension leads to ruin,” he wrote.

It was important to him that the members of his order be of one mind as they educated young people, evangelized the faithful and performed works of charity.

“Since we form with Him but one body and draw life from the same Spirit, He urges us to remain united among ourselves in Him in order to be one like the branches and the vine, borne by the same root and nourished by the same sap, and forming together but one plant,” Father Moreau once said.

Sadly, his success led to his own undoing as head of the congregation. As his organization grew in power and influence, it attracted individuals who had their own ideas of how it should be run. When Father Moreau attempted to remedy the problems, a struggle for control ensued and he was forced to resign from his post.

Because the congregation he formed in 1837 had spread so widely across the globe and because some members spent so much money to fund their unauthorized activities, it caused a great deal of tension. By the late 1850s several influential members at a general chapter had him ousted as superior general.

It was the greatest period of trial in the life of Father Moreau. Throughout this tribulation, he remained strong in his faith and defended the Congregation of Holy Cross at the cost of his own career. He endured the many attacks from his accusers with calmness and rationality, finding consolation in the spirituality of the Eucharist and his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“Some of the members of his Congregation, through negligence, were the cause of serious economic problems,” wrote Cardinal Joseph Saraiva Martins. “Yet he acted with such a sense of prudence and justice that he protected both the good reputation of the Institute as well as the legitimate rights of its creditors.”

Repairing Reputations

Following his resignation, Father Moreau continued to serve Christ and Our Lady. He was forced to live apart from the community he founded and so he moved in with his sisters. He preached retreats with great success in the country parishes around Le Mans.

Father Moreau died on January 20, 1873. Though ostracized by the congregation, he was never abandoned by the Marianites of Holy Cross. The good sisters remained faithful to Father Moreau and were with him at his deathbed.

Following his passing, Father Moreau was all but forgotten, as was Notre-Dame de Sainte-Croix. It fell on hard times, was sold and later used as a military barracks and warehouse.

In the 1920s, Father James Donahue sought to repair Father Moreau’s reputation as the guiding light of the order and the Church’s prominence. The superior general of the Congregation of Holy Cross repurchased the church building and literally scrubbed the sanctuary on his hands and knees. It was rededicated in 1937 on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the order.

Today, 70 years later, Notre-Dame de Sainte-Croix is being readied to host the beatification of Venerable Father Basile Moreau, C.S.C.

Legacy Bears Fruit

Father Moreau is remembered as the man who founded the Congregation of Holy Cross, but his influence on spirituality is often overlooked. According to Father Cleary, he established a modern concept of how we should open our hearts to God and allow him to touch our daily lives.

Throughout his life, Father Moreau—determined and sometimes demanding in his ways—worked only to further the glory of Christ. He lived a simple life, eschewing the trappings of office for the spartan existence of an ordinary priest dedicated to saving souls.

To him, the Congregation of Holy Cross was the embodiment of the Savior handed down to help those on this earth find the keys to the Kingdom. He expected the priests, brothers and sisters of his order to follow that path. Father Moreau wrote:

“Holy Cross is not a human work, but God’s very own....I beg you to renew yourselves in the spirit of your vocation, which is the spirit of poverty, chastity and obedience....

“If such is our conduct, we can rely on the help of Providence...Providence never fails to provide for all the necessities of those who abandon themselves to its guidance in accomplishing their duties.

“The Congregation of Holy Cross is God’s work, and by the very fact that He has not permitted its ruin despite the many terrible attacks of the enemy of all good, He wants it to continue in existence and to develop in even greater proportions.”

Serving God by Serving People

OVER THE YEARS, the Congregation of Holy Cross has grown into a dynamic ministry with apostolates in many countries. Some 1,670 Holy Cross priests and brothers serve as teachers, parish priests, hospital and jail ministers, missionaries and many other roles. They serve in France, the United States, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Ghana, Haiti, India, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Peru, Tanzania and Uganda.

Primarily a missionary congregation of educators in the faith, the order also serves in prayer and media apostolates and in ministries among the poor. Today, the congregation of priests continues the missionary spirit of its founder with seven provinces, including two in the United States (Indiana and Eastern), three vicariates and seven districts throughout the world. Mexico and Tanzania are the newest commitments of the congregation.

In the United States, there are three provinces of brothers (Southwest, Midwest and Eastern) and three congregations of women (Marianites of Holy Cross in New Orleans, Louisiana; Congregation of the Holy Cross, Notre Dame, Indiana; and the Congregation of Holy Cross Sisters in Montreal).

Also in this country, Holy Cross priests, brothers and sisters administer the University of Notre Dame, St. Mary’s College and Holy Cross College, in Notre Dame, Indiana; Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts; King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania; Our Lady of Holy Cross College in New Orleans; St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas; and the University of Portland, Oregon.

They staff 33 parishes throughout the country including Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas and Vermont. They administer 14 high schools nationwide.

Holy Cross sponsors 17 social and special ministries including book publishing, such as Ave Maria Press in Notre Dame, Indiana; and prayer and media production, such as Holy Cross Family Ministries, North Easton, Massachusetts. These ministries are designed to further the vision of Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C, the “Rosary priest” and Catholic media pioneer.

Other ministries include:

• Family Rosary, which Father Peyton founded in Albany, New York, in 1942, to foster daily family prayer, especially the Rosary. He conducted 40 Rosary rallies throughout the world that drew 28 million people;

• Family Theater Productions in Hollywood, California, which Father Peyton founded in 1947 to produce radio and, later, television programs to support family spirituality and unity. They have produced more than 900 programs;

• Family Rosary International, with 13 locations throughout the world;

• Father Peyton Family Institute, North Easton, Massachusetts, and Lima, Peru, providing resources and support for families.

Dan E. Pitre is the public relations director for Family Theater Productions, a film, television and radio production company in Hollywood, California. Family Theater Productions is part of the Holy Cross Family Ministries.

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