The Order was founded in the year 1210 by Blessed Theodore de Celles and his companions. The name Crosier is derived from the French croises; that is, those signed with the cross. In medieval England Crosiers were known as the Crutched (crossed) Friars. The designation, of course, refers to the cross and the spirituality of the Order. The primary feast of the Crosiers, the Triumph of the Cross, reflects a spirituality focused on the triumphal cross of Christ and the glorified Lord. One of the distinctive marks of the Crosiers is the red and white crusaders’ cross worn on the scapular of their religious habit.
The Order’s history may be divided into three periods. The first or medieval period was one of astonishing growth. Blessed Theodore and four companions came from Liegé in Belgium and formed a community at a place near the city of Huy called Clairlieu. They had little idea of establishing a religious order. Their mission was a life of liturgical prayer and pastoral work following the canonical tradition rather than the strictly monastic. They adopted the Rule of St. Augustine. Soon other communities were established, serving many great churches throughout Europe. At one time as many as ninety Crosier communities could be counted. They were also much involved in the running of hospices for travelers and those in pilgrimage. While the motherhouse remained at Huy for much of the Order’s history, other prominent priories were founded in France (Paris and Toulouse), in the Rhineland (Cologne), and in England (London), as well as the Low Countries.
The second period of the Order’s history was ushered in by a reform initiated at the General Chapter of 1410. This reform, influenced by a spiritual movement called the Devotio Moderna, was spearheaded by the priory of St. Agatha in the Netherlands and was typified by a very personal devotional spirituality.
While the house at Huy remained the motherhouse, St. Agatha became the spiritual center of a reformed and revitalizd Order.
The heart of the Order in the Rhineland and the Low Countries was deeply affected by the Protestant Reformation. Many of the priories and churches of the Crosiers were swept away by the Protestant Reform. Under Henry VIII, all the houses in England were surpressed. Later, at the end of the eigtheenth century, the French Revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic reforms further reduced the number of Crosiers. In the early 1800’s, only two priories remained, St. Agatha’s and another in Uden, also in the Netherlands. By 1840, four elderly Crosiers were all that remained. Secular authorities had forbidden them to accept new members.
The modern era begins in 1840 when the law forbidding new members was repealed and surprising numbers joined the Order, some of them diocesan priests who believed all along that they had a call to religious life. Henricus van de Wijmelenberg was one joined at this time. Soon this new Crosier was appointed as the superior, and then, in 1841, as Commissary General of the revitalized Order. He began to reestablish houses in Belgium and the Netherlands and even in the missionary lands. In 1850 he sent priests and brothers to Wisconsin in the USA. In all, nine Crosiers worked among Dutch and Belgian immigrants, especially in the Green Bay area and along the Fox River. Father Edward Daems made an attempt to establish a priory, but with the onset of the Civil War, the attempt was abandoned.
A second attempt to establish an American presence by the Crosiers was made in 1910 under Master General Hollman. This time priests and brothers were sent to northern Minnesota. In 1922, a priory and school were established in the small village of Onamia, ninety miles north of Minneapolis.
At this same time, Master General Hollman successfully undertook mission ventures in other parts of the world. In 1920, he sent Crosiers to the Belgian Congo (now Congo). In 1926 he sent Crosiers to the island of Java in Indonesia. In 1934, Master General van Dinter sent missionaries to Brazil. Since 1958, Crosiers have worked in the Diocese of Agats-Asmat (Irian Jaya region of Indonesia). In 1996, that region became a pro-province, a status reflecting its remarkable growth in recent years.
Today, the worldwide Order of the Holy Cross includes foundations in Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Congo, Germany, Indonesia, the Netherlands, and the United States. There are approximately 500 Crosiers throughout the world.
The residence (Generalate) of the Master General and his staff is found in Rome, at the Church of San Giorgio al Velabro. The Order has cared for this seventh century church since 1939.