Devotion to Saint Joseph: a Legacy of Blessed Basile-Antoine Moreau

In 1904, Brother André Bessette, a Holy Cross religious, created a shrine to Saint Joseph in Montreal. Every March, the patron saint of the universal Church is celebrated there.

Did you know that Blessed Basile-Antoine Moreau, who was born in the Sarthe department in France in 1799 and was the founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, is considered one of the forerunners of devotion to Saint Joseph in the 19th century?


Figurines representing Brother André, Father Basile-Antoine Moreau and Saint Joseph. The wooden statuette of Father Moreau was made in 1933 by Brother Abundius Piché, C.S.C., a friend of Brother André.
Saint Joseph’s Oratory Museum, 1979-64-S; 1989.155.

From Father Moreau in France

Following the French Revolution, which caused great upheaval in religious practice, Father Basile-Antoine Moreau took action to uplift the country spiritually. In 1837 in Le Mans, he created the Congregation of Holy Cross by bringing together under a single entity two existing associations: the Auxiliary Priests who preached in the parishes, which he founded in 1835, and the Brothers of Saint Joseph, an association of teaching brothers founded by Father Jacques-François Dujarié in Le Mans in 1820.

In 1841, four sisters joined this group, including Mother Mary of the Seven Dolors who became the first Superior General of the Marianites of Holy Cross. Wishing to have a community reflecting the image of the Holy Family, Father Moreau proposed the image of the Tree of Holy Cross to represent the union of Jesus Christ with God, and that of Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary with Jesus1.

Basile Moreau et arbre de Sainte-Croix

Father Basile Moreau and the Tree of Holy Cross, a work in wood and ceramic by Sister Suzanne Baron, C.S.C. (S. M. of Oliviers) and Sister Adrienne Poirier, C.S.C. (S. M. Bernard, abbot), 1984.
Musée communautaire des Sœurs de Sainte-Croix, 2020.27.

In the Congregation of Holy Cross, devotion to Saint Joseph has an important place. Indeed, Father Moreau perceived the patron saint as the man who reached the greatest intimacy with the Child Jesus after the Virgin Mary. Saint Joseph is thus a model of Christian life. Through his numerous writings and liturgical texts, Father Moreau encouraged this devotion.

His motto was: “Go to Joseph”.

Lettre du père Moreau

Letter of appointment of Brother Urbain to Saint-Laurent written by Father Basile-Antoine Moreau under the protection of Saint Joseph, April 25, 1847.
Service d’archives de la Province canadienne de la congrégation de Sainte-Croix, A1,1.2.

… to Brother André in Canada

Fourteen Holy Cross religious arrived in Canada in 1847 at the request of Bishop Ignace Bourget, bishop of Montreal. They settled in the parish of Saint Laurent with the mission of teaching and preaching. The number of schools and parishes where Holy Cross promoted a Christian education grew rapidly and required the recruitment of men and women who were ready to embrace religion. In 1870, Alfred Bessette entered the novitiate and joined the community under the religious name of Brother André. In 1871, he was entrusted with the position of doorkeeper of the Collège Notre-Dame, an educational institution belonging to the Congregation of Holy Cross.

Brother André never met the founder of his congregation, Father Basile-Antoine Moreau, who died on January 20, 1873. But both shared the same devotion to Saint Joseph. As a young man, Brother André developed this devotion thanks to his mother. As a doorkeeper, Brother André met many suffering people who shared their problems with him. He would give them a medal of Saint Joseph, as well as some oil from a lamp that burned in front of the statue of the saint in the college chapel.

In 1904, Brother André obtained permission to build a modest outdoor chapel as a sign of devotion to Saint Joseph on the Mount Royal side across from the Collège Notre-Dame. During his lifetime, Father Moreau expressed the desire to see a shrine to Saint Joseph built in France 2. His dream came true, but on Canadian soil. A legacy of Father Moreau, Saint Joseph’s Oratory is a highlight in the history of devotion to Saint Joseph in Holy Cross3.

Peinture frère André et l'Oratoire

“Brother André and Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal”, oil painting on canvas by Sister Isabelle Liliosa Shea, C.S.C. (S. M. Liliosa), 1982.
Musée communautaire des Sœurs de Sainte-Croix, 2019.56.

A devotion in various forms

Within the congregation in Canada, Saint Joseph inspires numerous religious who create works in tribute to the patron saint of the Church. In 1917, one of them wrote the lyrics of the “Cantique national à saint Joseph” (National Canticle to Saint Joseph) for the blessing of the crypt of Saint Joseph’s Oratory. Others represent the saint in painting or sculpture.

Cantique national à saint Joseph

“Cantique national à Saint Joseph. Premier Patron du Canada” (National Canticle to Saint Joseph. First Patron of Canada). Lyrics by a religious of Holy Cross, music by Father Lagacé, Montreal, 1917.
Roland Gauthier Archives and Documentation Centre, Jpe L24c.

The month of March is dedicated to Saint Joseph. In several of this writings, Father Moreau exhorts the religious to celebrate with all possible solemnity the month of Saint Joseph in their respective establishments. Saint Joseph’s Day is thus celebrated each year on March 19 at Saint Joseph’s Oratory since 1909. And for over a century, a novena has been dedicated to him. Thousands of pilgrims visit the shrine on this occasion. If you are also visiting, be sure to see the exhibition dedicated to the legacy of Father Moreau in Canada.

Messe dans la crypte de l'Oratoire - 19 mars1924

Mass in the Crypt Church of Saint Joseph’s Oratory on the Feast of Saint Joseph on March 19, 1924.
Roland Gauthier Archives and Documentation Centre, 45-1.

In 2023, the Congregation of Holy Cross commemorates the 150th anniversary of Blessed Father Basile-Antoine Moreau’s entrance into heaven. The Canadian Province of the Congregation of Holy Cross and the Sisters of Holy Cross, in collaboration with Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal, present an exhibition in his honour entitled “The Legacy of Blessed Basile Moreau in Canada”. On view until July 1st, 2023 on the 4th floor of Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal.

  1. Circular no. 14, September 1st, 1841 in Circular letters of the very reverend Basil A. Moreau, Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame (Indiana), 1943, v. 1.
  2. Circular no. 138, February 1861 in Circular letters of the very reverend Basil A. Moreau, Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame (Indiana), 1944, v. 2.
  3. Brother Germain, C.S.C., La dévotion du père Moreau à saint Joseph, no date. Service d’archives de la Province canadienne de la Congrégation de Sainte-Croix, A1,1.15.