France is the birthplace of the Congregation of Holy Cross. Blessed Basile Moreau founded Holy Cross on March 1, 1837, when he joined into one association the Brothers of St. Joseph (founded by Fr. Jacques Dujarié in 1820) and the Auxiliary Priests (which Moreau himself had begun in 1835). At the time, the Brothers of St. Joseph were already teaching in small parish schools in the countryside surrounding Le Mans, and the Auxiliary Priests had begun preaching parish missions in the diocese.
Moreau's vision was that the priests and brothers could work together as educators in the faith. He established the headquarters for his new Congregation in the Sainte-Croix neighborhood of Le Mans.
Explore a Photo Gallery of the Congregation's Origins in France
In November 1836, several months prior the official founding of Holy Cross, Moreau also transferred the brothers’ primary boarding school from Ruillé-sur-Loir to Sainte-Croix. Renamed Notre-Dame de Sainte-Croix, the school quickly grew into one of the top secondary schools in the region. It was on that same property that the Congregation built its conventual church, also named Notre-Dame de Sainte-Croix, which was consecrated in 1857.
With a steady stream of vocations, the Congregation began sending successive generations of missionaries from France around the world, including Algeria (1840), the United States (1841), Canada (1847), Italy (1850), and East Bengal, or present-day India and Bangladesh (1852).
At the same time the Congregation was expanding around the world, its presence and work within France were growing and spreading out from the Diocese of Le Mans to schools and parishes in the rest of the country, including the capital of Paris.
A major financial crisis within the Congregation in 1861 and then the suppression of religious orders in the country in 1903 both dealt blows to the Congregation’s work in France. Many Holy Cross religious in France went to join the Congregation’s missions in North America and East Bengal.
The work of Holy Cross in France, however, continued, and today the Congregation sponsors two schools, Ensemble Scolaire Saint Michel de Picpus (which has three campuses in Paris) and College-Lycée Notre-Dame d’Orveau in Nyoiseau (near Angers). In addition to providing other parochial assistance in the West of France, Holy Cross also administers Notre-Dame de Sainte-Croix Parish in Le Mans (which is the Congregation’s conventual church and was established as a parish in 1938).
Our conventual church in Le Mans as well as the life and mission of Holy Cross in France stand as a witness to one of the deepest beliefs of our blessed founder. Beyond the times of darkness, beyond even the history of our lives, God is faithful. – Rev. Pascal Garçon, C.S.C. Read more
The beatification of Blessed Basile Moreau, which took place in Le Mans on September 15, 2007, was a moment of great celebration for the Congregation and the whole Church in France. Since the beatification, the sites connected with Moreau and the founding of the Congregation have seen an increasing number of pilgrims coming to pray and learn more about the spirituality of Holy Cross.
Since 2014, Notre-Dame de Sainte-Croix Church has also been home to the International Shrine of Blessed Basile Moreau. The shrine along with St. Joseph's Oratory in Canada have been designated "congregational patrimonies" due to their significance in telling the history and transmiting the charism of Holy Cross.
In recognition of its "special status as the birthplace of the Congregation," the 2022 General Chapter of the Congregation of Holy Cross decreed the Holy Cross community in France to the Mother Province.
For a listing of the Congregation's schools, parishes, and other apostolic works in France, check out the ministries page.