Division for Mission


“We shall always place education side by side with instruction; the mind will not be cultivated at the expense of the heart. While we prepare useful citizens for society, we shall likewise do our utmost to prepare citizens for eternal life.”

Written in 1849, these are the words of Father Basil Moreau, CSC, who in 19th-century France founded the Holy Cross congregations that includes sisters, priests, and brothers. Today, his goal of education that combines intellectual and moral instruction lives on at Saint Mary’s College, the University of Notre Dame, Holy Cross College, and universities that span the globe.

What relevance does a Holy Cross education have in the 21st Century? What features make it distinctive among colleges and universities today? The answers to these questions come from both the present and the past.

Responding to the needs of the times

The Holy Cross congregations grew out of the political turmoil of the French Revolution, when the Catholic Church came under attack and clergy were exiled, imprisoned, or killed. But those who remained true to the faith began to rebuild and form new religious orders. Father Moreau, a priest of the diocese of Le Mans, France, saw the need for priests who would assist the local churches by preaching and teaching. In 1837, he founded the Congregation of Holy Cross. Moreau was determined to carry the Congregation’s two areas of ministry—preaching the Word of God and Christian education—well beyond the borders of France.

In 1841, he sent Father Edward Sorin and six brothers to the northern Indiana wilderness, where they founded what would later become the University of Notre Dame. Two years later, Moreau dispatched four Holy Cross Sisters to assist the priests as maids, cooks, and laundresses. Their story reveals one of the most distinctive features of Holy Cross: a commitment to responding the needs of the times.

The four Frenchwomen who ventured to Indiana in 1843—Sister Mary of the Heart of Jesus, Sister Mary of Calvary, Sister Mary of Nazareth, and Sister Mary of Bethlehem—received the order to travel to America just a day after their professions. Their leader, Sister Mary of the Heart of Jesus, was only 19 at the time. The sisters’ first duty was to provide domestic help to the brothers and priests, but they soon turned their attention to women’s education. Within a year, they founded an academy for girls in Bertrand, Michigan, and in 1855 moved the school just south of the Indiana line, where it became Saint Mary’s College.

According to Saint Mary’s President Carol Ann Mooney ’72, the response of those four sisters captures the essence of the Holy Cross charism. “They stretched themselves and found the personal and communal resources to assume and fulfill increasing responsibilities,” said Mooney at her inauguration in 2005. Today, students educated at Holy Cross institutions “are prepared to do not only what is required of them, but to move beyond and do that which will enrich their communities,” she added.

Educating the whole person

From humble beginnings, Holy Cross education now flourishes around the world. The Sisters of the Holy Cross sponsor Saint Mary’s College and operate and teach in other schools in the United States, Bangladesh, Brazil, Uganda, and Ghana. Holy Cross priests and brothers sponsor the University of Notre Dame and Holy Cross College in Indiana, plus St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, the University of Portland in Oregon, King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, and about 20 middle schools, high schools, and child welfare agencies. There are other educational missions of Holy Cross priests and brothers in Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Haiti, India, Kenya, Mexico, Uganda, the United States, Peru, and Tanzania.

What distinguishes the educational philosophy of Holy Cross? A well-rounded curriculum focusing on preparing the whole person is paramount. Students who gravitate toward Holy Cross institutions want intellectual challenges and a chance to cultivate their spiritual, social, physical, and artistic sides. That approach represented Father Moreau’s view of education, which he called “the art of helping young people to completeness.”

For Katie Dingeman ’06, a Holy Cross education means “you have the time to explore other aspects of your being” in college. Dingeman was a competitive swimmer, sociology major, and French minor who studied abroad in Honduras and India and volunteered with immigrants and refugees during her Saint Mary’s career. “I’m a completely different person from who I was before college because of the opportunities I had to grow—and I don’t think these are necessarily available elsewhere,” she says.

A caring community

Father Moreau’s ideas about the role of teachers were also a departure from the educational philosophy of his era. He argued that a teacher’s vocation was a special calling from God equal to the call to religious life, and that teachers should not only be knowledgeable, but caring. Their relationship with students should be a close one, and the personal bonds that formed would strengthen both the school and the wider community.

Today’s students articulate their feelings about this dimension in various ways. For Monica Lindblom ’07, it meant seeking the counsel of faculty as she explored a myriad of academic possibilities in her first two years at Saint Mary’s. After considering biology, English, history, communications, and business as majors, Lindblom finally settled on humanistic studies, thanks in part to the advice of her professors. “I don’t think if I was anywhere else I would get this much personal attention and advising,” she says. “I have no idea what I’m going to do, but I’m not scared at all because I know that they’re guiding me.”

According to Sister Rose Anne Schultz ’66, CSC, vice president for mission emerita, such guidance is especially important for young people in an era of conflict, uncertainty, and rapid technological change. “In a culture of instant communication and varying forms of violence, young people still want connection and meaning. Holy Cross education continues to be a viable option for those who want to be change agents in the 21st Century,” she says.

Transforming the world

Those with a Holy Cross education bring special qualities to their life work, according to Sister Mary Louise Gude ’63, CSC. “There is a great emphasis on cooperation, and people emerge with the ability to do teamwork. They have concern for social justice. They gain a good theological formation and a respect for intellectual life,” she says.

“While the sense of belonging is important as students begin college life, it is during the next years that experience of community and search for meaning and values broadens to a larger vision that embraces global dimensions of community.” says Sister Rose Anne Schultz, CSC. “A favorite way to express the constant value of a Holy Cross education is found in Brother John Paige’s description of the pedagogy of Holy Cross: Information that imparts to students knowledge and competence, which is at the service of formation of the student by fostering proper values, attitudes, and behaviors; which is directed towards transformation of the person, who becomes an agent for transformation in the world.”