History of Holy Cross | University of Portland

History of Holy Cross

In the troubled period following the French Revolution, Father Basil Anthony Moreau, a priest of the diocese of LeMans, founded the Congregation of Holy Cross. To supply the needs of the devastated Church throughout the countryside, he organized a group of auxiliary priests to assist diocesan clergy in preaching parish missions. He also intended them to be educators and began to prepare them for that work. 

Only days after this group was first assembled, Father Moreau accepted, at the request of his bishop, responsibility for the Brothers of Saint Joseph, founded fifteen years earlier by another priest of the same diocese, Father James Francis Dujarie, pastor of Ruille-sur-Loir. These brothers were zealous laymen who had been meeting the need for elementary education in villages of the region. 

What led to an unusual venture in the history of the church was Father Moreau's decision to unite these two groups, which he did by the Fundamental Act of 1 March 1837. Priests and brothers were united within a single association to minister to the pastoral and educational needs of the French Church. 

From the outset, Fr. Moreau saw Holy Cross as an apostolic religious community destined to serve the church well beyond the frontiers of his own country. During the first fifteen years, when the group was still small and struggling, Fr. Moreau's vision compelled him to send out missionaries to Algiers, Eastern Bengal, and the United States. It was his decision to accept the difficult mission of Eastern Bengal (now Bangladesh) that persuaded Pope Pius IX to grant Holy Cross official ecclesiastical recognition as a religious institute, approving its Constitutions in 1857. 

In 1842, Father Edward Sorin, C.S.C. had arrived in Northern Indiana at the age of 28 with seven brothers to found the University of Notre Dame. From there, Sorin followed Moreau's example of sending out priests and brothers to found other schools and parishes throughout the United States and Canada. It was a heroic work given the community's meager resources, cholera outbreaks in the 1850s, the divisions of the American Civil War in the 1860's, and the insatiable need for Catholic priests and brothers in parishes and schools as citizens flocked to claim the frontier. 

Shortly after the dawn of the 20th century, the University of Portland first opened its doors in 1901 (as Columbia University). Its founder, Archbishop Alexander Christie, soon faced grim financial reality. He began lobbying Father John A. Zahm, C.S.C., the Holy Cross superior in South Bend, Ind., to assume financial and administrative responsibility for the new university. He is said to have pleaded with Zahm to "take over Columbia University and make it the Notre Dame of the Pacific Northwest!" 

In 1902, the Holy Cross priests arrived in the Northwest to run the year-old University of Portland. 

In the 20th century, the priests and brothers of Holy Cross devoted their greatest efforts to educational ministries in the United States and Canada and (despite the difficulties caused by the suppression of religious orders between 1903-18) France. There was some instability as well. The congregation had withdrawn from Africa and would not return to the continent until 1958. The mission in Bengal continued to wrestle with a series of calamities and natural disasters that led to sickness, exhaustion, and an early death for many. However, overall the first six decades of the century witnessed rapid growth in numbers and diversification of ministries, reminiscent of the congregation's earliest years under Fr. Moreau. 

Today, the Congregation has ministries all over the globe and is enjoying continued growth, particularly in India, Bangladesh, and East Africa as well as renewed interest in vocations among American high school and college students. It is represented on every continent except for Australia and Antarctica. As Holy Cross looks forward to the first century of the next millennium, it is continuing to serve the Church as "Educators in the Faith," bringing to fruition much of Fr. Moreau's original vision. 

— Courtesy of the United States Province