Rev. James Connelly, C.S.C., Archivist for the Congregation of Holy Cross, has produced in The History of the Congregation of Holy Cross a monumental and extremely valuable monograph. He chronicles the accomplishments and trials of the Holy Cross community from its French roots in the first quarter of the nineteenth century to present day.

Organized in six sections and 14 chapters with a brief introduction and informative epilogue, Connelly has made a significant contribution to the literature of religious life and especially Holy Cross, as this is the first efforts at a complete history of the Congregation.

Founding vision

Appropriately beginning with the Congregation’s foundation, Connelly describes how in 1837 Basile Moreau, a French priest of the Diocese of LeMans, brought together the Brothers of St. Joseph, founded by Father Jacques Dujarie, with a group of “auxiliary priests” headed by Moreau in LeMans into the Congregation of Holy Cross through the Fundamental Act of Union.

In 1840 Moreau and four other auxiliary priests were the first to take provisional vows. Moreau founded a group of religious sisters, the Marianites, originally to serve as domestic assistance to the priests. Moreau’s vision was for Holy Cross to be a family of priests, brothers, and sisters. From the outset, the primary apostolate of the community was education.

The initial movement of the Congregation beyond France was a failed attempt in Algeria. However, apostolates in North America, starting in the United States through the foundation of the University of Notre Dame in 1842 and in 1847 Canadian foundations solidified the Congregation in this continent. Agreeing to take a mission in Bengal in 1853 led to the Congregation receiving papal approbation from Pope Pius IX in 1857.

Educational impact

The numerous accomplishments of the Congregation over its nearly 200 years of service to the Church are presented throughout the manuscript.

Connelly highlights the educational institutions, colleges and universities such as Notre Dame, the University of Portland, Stonehill College, and Notre Dame College in Dhaka, Bangladesh, as well as numerous secondary schools in Canada, the United States, highlighting St. George’s in Santiago, Chile. The growth of these institutions, and especially the advent of the prominence of Notre Dame under the presidency of Father Theodore Hesburgh is chronicled.

The Congregation’s efforts in missions throughout the world, especially the presence of Holy Cross religious in East Bengal (today Bangladesh), as well as missions in Haiti, Ghana, Uganda, Brazil, Chile, and Peru, again with emphasis on education, are described. Connelly also informs the reader of the efforts of the Congregation in publishing, including the inauguration in 1865 of Ave Maria magazine, and the more recent success of Fides Press.

Basile Moreau, Founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross.

Challenges faced

While describing the Congregation’s many successes, Connelly does not shy away from presenting the community’s many trials. The separation in the late nineteenth century of the Marianites into three separate congregations of religious women greatly wounded the founder. Strong disagreements between Moreau, Edward Sorin, the founder of Notre Dame, and other community members led to the founder’s exile from the Congregation.

The French government’s secularization efforts in the late nineteenth century almost destroyed the community in that country. Disagreements between priests and brothers over issues of parity and Congregational power led in 1946 to the creation of separate provinces of priests and brothers.

Lastly, as with many religious communities, in the wake of Vatican II and the cultural challenges of the 1960s the diminution of the Congregation between 1965 and 1998 to less than half of its maximum membership remains a great trial even today.

Detailed read

Father Connelly is to be commended for this monumental effort. This history is meticulously researched and annotated, utilizing 11 archival repositories and numerous secondary sources.

Seeking to present such a vast history in a readable volume presents extreme challenges that are apparent in this monograph. Because this volume is organized with some chapters being chronological, others geographic in scope and still others thematic, there is the inevitable problem of redundancy. In order to provide context, the author at times informs the reader two or more times about various events. Additionally, the detail in the book, especially with respect to names and ages of religious and dates while instructive makes the basic narrative at times hard to follow.

Future historians might consider a multi-volume work, organized either chronologically or by apostolates, such as education, missions, and other ministries.

Invaluable work

Father James Connelly. CSC has provided in The History of the Congregation of Holy Cross a much needed and monumental effort that stands as the definitive history of this religious community. The volume will be of great interest to all members of the Congregation, as well as those who in the past or presently have been served by members of Holy Cross.

Father Connelly is to be commended for this lifetime labor of love for the Congregation to which he has dedicated his life and ministry.