Father Basil Moreau, a charismatic young priest, founded the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1837 in Le Mans in western France. Within just a few years he dispatched a group of Holy Cross religious to the United States under the leadership of Father Edward Sorin, who, in turn, founded the University of Notre Dame in 1842. The Holy Cross Order and Notre Dame have been fundamentally intertwined ever since. This enduring relationship is crucial for Notre Dame to fulfill its mission as a Catholic university.
Both Moreau and Sorin possessed a deep conviction that they must share Christ with others. Each was deeply committed to Christian education as a way of pursuing that fundamental call. They recognized that this was how Holy Cross could serve well the needs of the Church of their day. Moreau outlined in his reflections on Christian pedagogy that the mind could not “be cultivated at the expense of the heart.” Holy Cross schools were intended to be places of both intellectual and spiritual formation.
Thus, from virtually its outset Notre Dame has been a place that aimed not only to improve minds, but also to shape souls. Holy Cross religious and their early lay collaborators established a school where not only the intellectual lives of the students but also their religious and moral lives were nurtured and developed. They helped shape an institution where notions of family and community were not simple slogans but something very real.
Many elements of the university evidence the sustained pastoral labors of generations of Holy Cross religious. Despite trials and tribulations of various sorts, these religious helped build a distinctive school and always played an enormous role in its pastoral work and residential life. It is rightly said of Holy Cross religious that “their blood is in the bricks” of Notre Dame.
Yet this is not the time to rest on past laurels. There are distinct challenges in the present and immediate future that warrant an enhanced engagement of the Holy Cross Order in influencing the direction of Notre Dame. Too often in recent decades the larger Holy Cross community has simply allowed a few members holding administrative responsibilities to represent them. But the time has surely come for Holy Cross as a community to reclaim more of its collective voice.
Holy Cross must help guide Notre Dame in its renewal as a Catholic university. Here, members of the Order, especially those on the Board of Fellows, must ensure that Notre Dame unequivocally adopts Ex Corde Ecclesiae as its essential guide—not just in word, but also in deed. As it has from the outset, the Notre Dame community must grasp at a deep level that the university operates “from the heart of the Church” and can never see itself as an “autonomous” body. Holy Cross has a special responsibility to help Notre Dame live up to Pope Francis’ call for it to uphold an “uncompromising witness … to the Church’s moral teaching and in defense of her freedom.”
Holy Cross can play a distinct role in countering the excessive commercialization and corporatizing of the university. Holy Cross priests at Notre Dame have preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ with integrity from the time of Sorin, and they must continue to do so by countering what Pope Francis has called “the idolatry of money and lavish spending” that afflicts so many in our time. In this regard, Holy Cross religious have a special and specific opportunity to give public voice to the ill-feeling and deep unease present across the whole university regarding the poorly conceived and deeply wasteful Crossroads Project.
The new circumstance in which increasing numbers of students arrive at Notre Dame without deep faith commitments or serious religious practice also presents an important challenge to Holy Cross and its faith-filled lay collaborators. Reaching out to and connecting with these students who are nominal Catholics at best—poorly catechized and sporadic in Mass attendance—is more challenging now than in years when most students attended their dorm Mass as an essential part of their week. But this is an evangelization challenge to be welcomed as Holy Cross religious continue the work of Moreau and Sorin in sharing Christ with others.
Many religious orders in Catholic universities have not navigated recent decades well. Their roles are much reduced and their involvements increasingly limited. Holy Cross, too, faces challenges, but its essential contribution to Notre Dame—the university it founded—remains crucial. And, fortunately, there is a new generation of dedicated Holy Cross religious emerging who promise to engage vigorously in the work of evangelization at Notre Dame. Hopefully they will serve as a special leaven in the renewal endeavor, thus making Notre Dame an ever more vibrant place of integrated education concerned not only with the mind, but also with the heart and soul.
Fr. Bill Miscamble is a Holy Cross priest and professor of history at Notre Dame and a member of the Rover’s board of faculty advisors. He serves as the Paluch Professor of Theology at Mundelein Seminary during this academic year, after which he will return to his teaching at Notre Dame.