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Bl. Basil Anthony Mary Moreau (1799-1873)

Founder, Congregation of Holy Cross


Basil Anthony Mary Moreau, the ninth of 14 children, was born during the French Revolution on 11 February 1799 in Laigné-en-Belin, Sarthe, France, to a poor but pious family. In 1814 he entered St Vincent's Major Seminary in Le Mans run by the Sulpician Order, which greatly influenced his spirituality.

On 12 August 1821 he was ordained a priest at age 22. An exception was made for this early ordination to compensate for the large number of priests killed during the French Revolution.

In 1823 he became professor of philosophy at the minor seminary of Tessé. Then in 1825 he taught at St Vincent Seminary and later became the vice-rector and spiritual director.

Much of Fr Moreau's work aimed to repair the damage done by the French Revolution, first by giving the seminarians a solid formation, and second by preaching popular missions to the faithful.

Recognizing the laity's pastoral needs, Fr Basil organized the Auxiliary Priests of Le Mans in 1833 to assist diocesan clergy with their heavy pastoral burdens.

In 1835 Bishop Jean-Baptiste Bouvier asked Fr Moreau to assist the Congregation of the Brothers of St Joseph (established in 1820 at Ruillé-sur-Loir), whose Founder, Canon Jacques-François Dujarié, was no longer able to direct the Order due to illness.

After attempting to govern the communities separately, Fr Moreau united the Congregation of the Brothers of St Joseph and the Society of Auxiliary Priests of Le Mans into one religious institute, which became the Congregation of Holy Cross on 1 March 1837 with a "Fundamental Pact of Union".

On 15 August 1840 Fr Moreau pronounced his perpetual vows in the presence of Bishop Bouvier, and was followed by several of his first associates. His relationship with Bishop Bouvier was often tried by differing viewpoints on how best to revitalize the faith and administer the Congregation following the Revolution.

Fr Moreau's allegiance to Rome did not allow him to share the Gallican sympathies of the local Ordinary. Therefore, when it would have been possible for the Congregation of Holy Cross to apply for Pontifical approval, thus significantly reducing Bishop Bouvier's authority over the Order, it did not receive his needed support.

This was an opportunity for Fr Moreau to practice the Congregation's special vow of obedience and respect to the hierarchy. In fact, Pontifical approval was granted only after Bishop Bouvier's death in 1854.

In 1841 Fr Moreau founded the Marianites of Holy Cross to be housekeepers in the schools staffed by Holy Cross priests and Brothers, but the Sisters' activity soon expanded to include other apostolates and missionary work.

Although Fr Moreau wanted to include the Marianite Sisters in the Holy Cross Congregation, the Holy See excluded them from the definitive Decree of approval that was granted on 13 May 1857.

Instead, they were to be governed separately. Nonetheless, the two institutes carried out much of their apostolic activities as a united effort.

Another trial came with the expansion of the Order at a time when poor means of communication left room for individualistic governance by the communities located far from France.

Such was the case with the community founded in 1842 in Indiana, U.S.A., by Fr Edward F. Sorin. The local Bishop, grateful for apostolic assistance in his huge Diocese, entrusted Fr Sorin with an Indian mission and broad jurisdiction. The priest rushed into building projects without the necessary approval and sent the bills to the Motherhouse in France.

In fact, Fr Moreau's forbearance with his confrere, Fr Sorin, brought the unforeseen fruit of the Order's first university in the U.S.A.: Notre Dame University.

Fr Moreau suffered much due to the internal strife that developed within the male and female branches, especially with those in the U.S.A. This eventually led to the U.S.A. Sisters breaking with their French origins and associating with Fr Sorin.

Fr Basil spent his last years in a house owned by the Marianite Sisters, who continued to provide for his daily meals and needs. During this time he preached retreats and missions and substituted for parish priests.

While replacing a priest at Yvre l'Eveque in December 1872, Fr Moreau became ill, and after his return to Le Mans, he died on 20 January 1873 at age 73.

In 1955 his cause for Beatification was introduced and on 12 April 2003 Pope John Paul II proclaimed him Venerable.