Bringing education to the new frontier
The Sisters of the Holy Cross trace their origins to the Congregation of Holy Cross, founded in the 19th century by Father Basil Anthony Moreau in Le Mans, France.
In 1843 Father Moreau sent four Holy Cross sisters to northern Indiana to assist the Holy Cross priests who were establishing a school for boys and young men. The priests’ school would later become known as the University of Notre Dame.
Just over the Michigan-Indiana state line in a river town north of South Bend and Notre Dame, the sisters started to teach the local girls. The resulting school moved in 1855 from Bertrand, Michigan, to Indiana and grew to become Saint Mary’s College, a recognized leader today among Catholic women’s colleges in the United States.
Throughout the 20th century, the sisters also would found colleges in Salt Lake City, Utah, Washington, D.C., and Brookline, Massachusetts, which were later closed.
During this time the sisters also operated schools and orphanages from California to New York and South Dakota to Texas.
Responding to the needs of a nation
During the U.S. Civil War the sisters responded to the request of Governor Morton of Indiana who asked the congregation if it could spare sisters to care for the Indiana soldiers. Holy Cross sisters volunteered to journey to Paducah, Kentucky, to tend the sick and the wounded there and in Illinois, Tennessee and Washington, D.C.
On Christmas Eve 1862, three Sisters of the Holy Cross boarded the U.S. Navy’s first hospital ship, The Red Rover, to serve as nurses for the wounded on both sides of the war. In so doing they became what U.S. naval history today hails as the pioneers or forerunners of the United States Navy Nurse Corps.
In the decades that followed, Sisters of the Holy Cross continued to respond to the unmet needs of people across the developing frontier. Holy Cross sisters would ultimately establish more than 100 academies, schools and colleges across the United States and a nationwide health system.
In May 2000, the Holy Cross Health System consolidated resources with the Sisters of Mercy’s Detroit Regional Health System, to create Trinity Health. In May 2013, Trinity Health and Catholic Health East consolidated their two healthcare systems to create one of the nation’s largest Catholic health delivery systems, serving patients and communities in 21 states.
Internationality, diversity and justice for the poor
In the 19th century, French Holy Cross sisters followed their founder’s injunction to go where the need is and made the journey to Bengal, then part of India, now the country of Bangladesh. Sisters from Indiana went to Bengal in 1889; and later to Brazil and Peru in South America; and to Uganda and Ghana in central and west Africa, then to Mexico, filling parish and community needs wherever they went.
In 1947 Sisters of the Holy Cross established Colégio Santa Maria in São Paulo, Brazil, and in 1950 founded Holy Cross College and Holy Cross Girls High School in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The Holy Cross sisters continue to offer basic and higher education and other services to the people of these countries.
Today, Sisters of the Holy Cross from diverse cultures and backgrounds bring health, education and advocacy services to assist and empower people around the globe.
To learn more about the history of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, read The Journey continues... (1,794KB downloadable PDF).