Blessed Basil Moreau (1799-1873), Founder of Holy Cross

 Basil Anthony Moreau was born on February 11, 1799; he was the founder of the Congregation of the Holy Cross; he died on January 20, 1873. He was beatified on September 15, 2007 in Le Mans, France. The Congregation of the Holy Cross founded the University of Notre Dame and continue to guide it.
 I would like to draw a few positive lessons about this great Catholic priest and founder. Usually we commemorate the day of birth into new life, not the birthday, but I happened to find a biography about Father Moreau  (by Gary MacEoin, Bruce, 1962) on a book discard rack at St Thomas University in Fredericton New Brunswick; I read it on the plane, much to my delight and edification.

His priestly life and apostolate grew out of the ruins of the French Revolution, like the Basilian Fathers and the Solesmes Benedictines. These men knew the danger of secularism and the importance of religious knowledge and religious institutions. Indeed, MacEoin says this about the core idea that Father Moreau spent his organization skills on implementing.

As he saw it, the thing that would do the most for religion was wider diffusion of knowledge. His personal devotion to the Holy trinity made his thinking and action run in triads, and he projected religious knowledge on three levels: the highest professional studies for priests and teachers, a network of religiously oriented schools for primary and secondary pupils, and Christian teaching to adults by priests who would go from parish to parish preaching missions. (36)

He founded the Congregation in 1837, and today The Congregation of Holy Cross is a religious order of priests and brothers in the Roman Catholic Church. Approximately 1,500 Holy Cross members (carrying the initials C.S.C. for the Latin Congregatio a Sancta Cruce) live and work in some 16 countries on five continents. (See their website here)

It is remarkable to read the challenges Father Moreau faced through his years; persecuted, caluminated, deceived and manipulated by his own confreres, opposed by his own bishop (an advocate of Gallicanism, whereas Moreau was “ultra-montane” in favor of the Pope and the roman guidance of the Church). Father Sorin, a pioneer and true visionary about education in the United States, founder of Notre Dame, was a very difficult man to guide; Sorin was not the best supporter of Moreau to say the least.  Through all of this Moreau showed his great patience, persistence and holiness.  He was a very spirited man himself — “there are frequent references to a violent temper” but through the temper he stood firm against opposition and false teaching. But he modeled his life on Christ and acted with patience and affection.

I should mention that I graduated from Notre Dame in 1974. As I praised the Oblates of St Francis de Sales, I must also express my gratitude to the priests of Holy cross. Fr Ed O’Connor taught me much in class and he provided spiritual formation and guidance; his influence has probably done more for me than any priest. Father Nogoski provided a spiritual presence in the dorm. Father Antonelli taught scripture in a scholarly and meditative approach. The presence of the Maritain Center; the professors such as McInerny, Evans and O’Malley, and countless others. What a dynamic Catholic presence was to be found at Notre Dame! But it is difficult to understand how the leadership at Notre Dame could have acted in a way that appears to me to abandon the legacy of Father Moreau in his loyalty to Rome. He adopted the roman collar to show his commitment; he was devoted as a son to the great Pope Pius IX, champion of orthodoxy. But now Ex corde seems to be jettisoned. And how a secularist and subverter of Catholic values such as Mr. Obama could be honored with an honorary degree of laws is mystifying. For comments about the current situation at Notre Dame visit our website for remarks by Notre Dame Philosophy professor Fred Freddoso (find it here).

Back to Father Moreau. At the end of his life he wrote: “With all my heart I pardon and humbly beseech the Divine Mercy, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin and St Joseph, to pardon all those who have harmed my reputation or the goods I have held in trust, thanking God for having found me worthy to suffer something on the occasion of the undertakings which I accepted for His glory.”

MacEoin concludes: in the designs of providence such conflict and suffering fulfills “a double purpose, to ensure their personal sanctification by despoiling them of what they inevitably prize most highly in the world, and to ensure the full establishment of their work by launching it on the independent course for which it is designed. It is indeed the fulfillment of the law of nature and of grace which Christ proclaimed when he declared that the seed must fall in the earth and die before it can produce the fruit.”

I think the deeper lesson can be drawn from Newman, as usual, in “Christ upon the Waters,” Preached Oct. 27, 1850, in St. Chad’s, Birmingham, on occasion of the Installation of Dr. Ullathorne, the first Bishop of the See, after centuries of suppression of Catholic religion. (Find it here) He said:

To do impossibilities, I may say, is the prerogative of Him, who made all things out of nothing, who foresees all events before they occur, and controls all wills without compelling them. In emblem of this His glorious attribute, He came to His disciples in the passage I have read to you, walking upon the sea,—the emblem or hieroglyphic among the ancients of the impossible; to show them that what is impossible with man, is possible with God. He who could walk the waters, could also ride triumphantly upon what is still more fickle, unstable, tumultuous, treacherous—the billows of human wills, human purposes, human hearts. 

Newman goes on to explain how the work of God takes time, decades and centuries, because it is not simply the work or ambition of one man at all, but the work of the Holy Spirit.

What an awful vitality is here! What a heavenly sustained sovereignty! What a self-evident divinity! She claims, she seeks, she desires no temporal power, no secular station; she meddles not with Caesar or the things of Caesar; she obeys him in his place, but she is independent of him. Her strength is in her God; her rule is over the souls of men; her glory is in their willing subjection and loving loyalty. She hopes and fears nothing from the world; it made her not, nor can it destroy her. She can benefit it largely, but she does not force herself upon it. She may be persecuted by it, but she thrives under the persecution. She may be ignored, she may be silenced and thrown into a corner, but she is thought of the more. Calumniate her, and her influence grows; ridicule her,—she does but smile upon you more awfully and persuasively. What will you do with her, ye sons of men, if you will not love her, if at least you will not endure her? Let the last three hundred years reply. Let her alone, refrain from her; for if her counsel or her work be of men, it will come to nought; but if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it, lest perhaps you be found even to fight against God.

In a second part of the sermon, found here, Newman explains how the Church is a Church of sinners, and that God can use such weak and flawed instruments to accomplish his purposes, But he warns us that our greatest enemy is our own corruption and luke-warmness:

One thing alone I fear. I fear the presence of sin in the midst of us. My Brethren, the success of the Church lies not with pope, or bishops, or priests, or monks; it rests with yourselves. If the present mercies of God come to nought, it will be because sin has undone them. The drunkard, the blasphemer, the unjust dealer, the profligate liver—these will be our ruin; the open scandal, the secret sin known only to God, these form the devil’s real host. We can conquer every foe but these: corruption, hollowness, neglect of mercies, deadness of heart, worldliness—these will be too much for us.

His final prayer should be ours today. May Blessed John Newman and Blessed Basil Moreau pray for us:

And, O my dear Brethren, if, through God’s mercy, you are among those who are shielded from these more palpable dangers and more ordinary temptations of humanity, then go on to pray for all who are in a like state with yourselves, that we may all “forget the things that are behind, and stretch forth to those that are before”; that we may “join with faith, virtue, and with virtue, knowledge, and with knowledge, abstinence, and with abstinence, patience, and with patience, pity, and with pity, love of brotherhood, and with love of brotherhood, charity.” Pray that we may not come short of that destiny to which God calls us; that we may be visited by His effectual grace, enabling us to break the bonds of luke-warmness and sloth, to command our will, to rule our actions through the day, to grow continually in devotion and fervor of spirit, and, while our natural vigor decays, to feel that keener energy which comes from heaven.


1 Comment
  1. I too happened to recently pick up MacEoin's biography of Moreau and read it after reading "Edward Sorin" by O'Connell, "Flame in the Wilderness" about Mother St. Angela, foundress of Saint Mary's, and Sr. Costin's book about the founding of the Holy Cross Congregation in America. Fascinating story-telling in all of them. One thing I can say is that these books hold widely divergent points of view about how and why the CSCs alternately sacrificed, indulged, failed, and prospered . And it seems that the Venerable Father Moreau's story has certainly undergone some 'revisionist' history and public relations in the past 50 years even to the point that he is on the track to sainthood. But really only the good Lord knows the truth about the CSC history and who will be held accountable in the end for the successes and the failures. Never the less, God bless 'em all. Ave Crux Spes Unica.

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