This past October, twelve Notre Dame students from the London Global Gateway traveled to Le Mans, France, on a pilgrimage to follow in the footsteps of Blessed Basil Moreau, the founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross. After arriving in northwest France, the pilgrims departed on foot to explore the area where Moreau entered the seminary, was ordained, and ultimately died.
Father Moreau founded the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1837 in a neighborhood called “Sainte-Croix,” which inspired the name of the Congregation. Today it is a site of pilgrimage for Catholics worldwide. Moreau would go on to send Fr. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., to Indiana to found the University of Notre Dame in 1842. Notre Dame’s own Moreau Seminary remains the central house of formation for priests and brothers of the US Province of the Congregation of Holy Cross. Fr. Moreau’s youth and education in Le Mans in post-revolutionary, anti-Catholic France compelled him to build and support Catholic education throughout the world.
History major Erin Reilly (’24) recalls meeting French pilgrims on the trip to Le Mans and the connection that exceeds language. She considers the pilgrimage “a great way to bond with the international Catholic community.”
The morning in Le Mans explored the city’s key Catholic locations. The first stop on the pilgrimage was Cathédrale St-Julien du Mans, the gothic 6th century cathedral in Cité Plantagenêt, the Old City. The cathedral is dedicated to Le Mans’ first bishop, Saint Julian, who brought Christianity to the area in the 4th century. The students then traversed the Old City to the Chapel of the Visitation, where Fr. Moreau was ordained a priest.
The second half of the day was dedicated to specific sites of Moreau’s religious life. Most affecting was the Shrine of Blessed Basil Moreau at the Congregation's Conventual Church. The shrine was built by Blessed Moreau as a sign of the unity of his international religious family, and now serves as his final resting place.
Next the pilgrims visited the Solitude of the Savior, built in imitation of Moreau’s own formational seminary at the Sulpician Solitude of Issy, and used as a novitiate for his priests. On the hill Gazonfier, just above Le Mans, the Solitude served as a place of study and reconciliation in Moreau's day and today is kept by the Marianites of Holy Cross. Les petit bois (or "little woods") beyond the Solitude of the Savior are still in tact today, allowing pilgrims to walk where Moreau is said to have walked in prayer and reflection. After visiting the museum at the Solitude, the students then traveled to Fr. Moreau’s birthplace at nearby Laigné-en-Belin where they explored the Moreau family’s neighborhood and celebrated mass at the local Catholic church.
With so many moving religious and historical locations experienced in just one day, what was the students’ greatest takeaway from the pilgrimage to Le Mans?
“It was such an enriching experience as a Notre Dame student to walk in the footsteps of Father Moreau,” says Reilly. She goes on to explain that she feels “such gratitude to be a student at Notre Dame,” seeing this history in context.“You see how Notre Dame is connected to the wider world, and how great a leap of faith it was for Fr. Moreau to send Fr. Sorin to America, and how lucky we are to experience it as modern-day Notre Dame students.”
The last day of the trip gave Notre Dame juniors the opportunity to visit Paris before returning to London. Many students explored key cultural sites including the Louvre Museum, the Champs-Élysées, and the Eiffel Tower. Reilly calls it the perfect metropolitan arts and culture compliment to her days in Le Mans. And between the Louvre’s stunning trove of religious art and Notre-Dame de Paris, visiting the city of Paris was a Catholic pilgrimage of its own.
This article was written by Caroline Lezny, Digital Communications Coordinator for the London Global Gateway. The students were accompanied by Fr. Jim Lies, C.S.C., Senior Director for Academic Initiatives and Partnerships; Kevin Barnes, Rector of Conway Hall; and Fr. John DeRiso, C.S.C., former pastor of Notre-Dame de Sainte-Croix in Le Mans. The program was supported by the generosity of the Nanovic Institute for European Studies and by the London Global Gateway.