On July 15, 2020, the Congregation of Holy Cross kicks off a yearlong commemoration of the founding in 1820 of the Brothers of St. Joseph, who were the precursors to the Brothers of Holy Cross. Celebrations will be held worldwide throughout the Congregation to mark the anniversary and honor the heritage of the Congregation’s earliest ancestors as “Educators, Pioneers, Disciples.”
“For us in the Congregation of Holy Cross, July 15, 2020 is a momentous occasion to celebrate the work of Divine Providence,” said Fr. Robert L. Epping, Superior General of the Congregation of Holy Cross. “Two hundred years ago, Father Jacques Dujarié, a pastor of the Diocese of LeMans, received 24-year old Pierre Hureau to live with him in the rectory of Ruillé-sur-Loir to begin studies to become a schoolteacher for young boys. The acceptance of this young man marks the first concrete step in the Founding of the Brothers of St. Joseph.”
The idea of a community of brothers as schoolteachers of young boys had been conceived two years prior, during the clergy retreat of 1818 in LeMans. Fr. Dujarié, who was secretly ordained on December 26, 1795, in the midst of the French Revolution, accepted the charge to establish the new group because of the success of the Sisters of Province, who he had founded several years prior.
“The flame that was lit on July 15, 1820 would flicker at first,” related Fr. Epping, pointing to the departures of the earliest arrivals to Ruillé. “However, on October 22, 2021, André-Pierre Mottais arrived at Dujarié’s doorstep. He would become the trusted partner of Dujarié in the formation and guidance of the Brothers of St. Joseph. The flame that still burns constantly through the Brothers of Holy Cross finally began its steady rays of light and warmth.”
The Brothers of St. Joseph, as they became to be known, grew quickly as they responded to the many needs in the post-Revolution French countryside for education and catechesis.
In 1835, due to poor health and advanced age, Fr. Dujarié entrusted the leadership of the Brothers of St. Joseph to Fr. Basile Moreau, his hand-picked successor. On August 31, in an emotional ceremony, filled with affection for their founder, the Brothers of St. Joseph were entrusted to the care of their new superior. At the same time, Fr. Moreau had been gathering together a group of auxiliary priests from the Diocese of Le Mans.
“Perhaps it was coincidence, more likely Divine Providence, that Fr. Jacques Dujarié, Br. André Mottais, and Fr. Basile Moreau were inspired by a similar religious intuitions to work toward a greater and united congregation of dedicated persons in the service of the Church and education,” said Fr. Epping.
Thus, less than two years later, on March 1, 1837, 54 Brothers of Saint Joseph and seven members of the Auxiliary Priests signed the “Fundamental Pact,” forming what we now know as the Congregation of Holy Cross.
Fr. Moreau continued as superior of the new community, which as the current Constitutions state, would be a “religious Congregation composed of two distinct societies of religious, one of religious priests and one of religious brothers, bound together in one indivisible brotherhood” (1:6).
For 17 years prior to Holy Cross’s establishment then, the Brothers of St. Joseph developed a spirituality, a style of education, and a way of life that they brought with them to their new community. This legacy, combined with the earlier vision and charism of heroic Fr. Dujarié, is foundational to who the Holy Cross Brothers are today as they continue to work all around the world as educators, pioneer, and disciples bringing hope to the people.
In addition to the local events and celebrations throughout the year, the Congregation launched a special page on its international website to celebrate the 200th Anniversary. Among other resources on Fr. Dujarié and the early Brothers of St. Joseph, there is a short documentary film directed by Br. Nich Perez, C.S.C., which recounts the founding of the Brothers of St. Joseph.
With both this rich heritage, and the mandate it entails, the Holy Cross Brothers and the whole Congregation seek to give thanks and, as the prayer to commemorate the anniversary states, to "always walk ahead” into the future.
“The Brothers of Holy Cross, their priest confreres, and all who are beneficiaries of their educational and pastoral ministry join in thanking Divine Providence for the gracious gift of the vocation of service to the growth of the Kingdom of God and ministry of the Church that he has given through the apostolic foresight of Fr. Jacques-François Dujarié,” said Fr. Epping.