André-Pierre Mottais was born on February 20, 1800 in the rural agricultural village of Larchamp (Mayenne, France). He was the third of five children born to Jean Mottais and Jeanne Blot. Little is known of his youth on the family farm. On October 22, 1820, he arrived at the presbytery of Ruillé-sur-Loir, seeking to join the institute of the Brothers of Saint Joseph, founded by l’abbé Jacques-François Dujarié.
“Brother André,” as he came to be known, was the first to persevere in the Brothers of Saint Joseph and so is referred to as the “first Brother of Holy Cross.” His piety, zeal, and astuteness made him an effective collaborator with Father Dujarié in the development of the religious institute. Sent by Dujarié to Le Mans and to Paris to be formed by the Christian Brothers in religious life and educational method, Brother André was eventually made director of novices and inspector of schools. Under Dujarié, and with the invaluable assistance of the devoted and faithful Mottais, the Institute grew and knew much success during the 1820’s. At its peak, it counted just over 100 members serving in nearly 50 establishments throughout the region.
Encounter with Father Basil Moreau
Father Basil Moreau began preaching community retreats for the Brothers of Saint Joseph of Ruillé as early as 1823, and served as Brother André’s confessor. When the time came to plan for new leadership of the Brothers of Saint Joseph due to numerous departures and to the increasing frailty of their beloved founder, Brother André petitioned Msgr. Jean-Baptiste Bouvier, bishop of Le Mans, to consider Moreau as successor. It was thus that, with the blessing of the bishop and with the humble gratitude of Jacques Dujarié, the transfer of leadership took place in a ceremony held in the chapel of the Brothers’ novitiate (le Grand Saint Joseph) on August 31, 1835.
Le Grand Saint Joseph, in Ruillé-sur-Loir, first motherhouse and novitiate of the Brothers of Saint Joseph
Father Moreau immediately moved the Brothers’ novitiate to Sainte-Croix-lès-Le Mans and to the property known as “Notre-Dame-de-Bel-Air” (eventually known as Notre-Dame de Sainte-Croix). Father Dujarié himself would come to reside at Sainte-Croix the following year. On August 25, 1836, at a ceremony held in the community chapel, Brother André professed perpetual vows as a Brother of Saint Joseph: “First among those who came up to pronounce his vows was Brother André, who had remained faithful from the very beginning and who had always given the example of an exemplary religious life.” (Etienne Catta and Tony Catta, Basil Anthony Mary Moreau, trans. By Edward L. Heston, 2 vols. (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1955), 1:356.
Brother André was a visionary in his own right. Indeed, he proposed to both Basil Moreau and to the bishop of Le Mans his idea of three societies of priests, brothers, and lay teachers united under the patronage of the Holy Family and of the Holy Trinity with, as its goal, the glory of God, the sanctification of its members, and the providing of a Christian education “suitable […] to the demands of the times.” One can easily discern here the outline of the similar structure that would eventually take shape under Father Moreau’s leadership.
Brother André was, above all, motivated by apostolic zeal. In 1840, he was named by Basil Moreau to be among the first Holy Cross missionaries to Algeria, where he served as founder and director of Christian schools. In spite of numerous trials, he gave himself wholeheartedly to this mission, believing that he would live out the rest of his days in North Africa. In fact, it was not to be the case. In 1842, the Holy Cross religious were obliged to leave Algeria and return to France. While the mission to Algeria was eventually resumed in 1844, Brother André was not among the returning missionaries. He had died at Sainte-Croix on March 16 of that same year.
Brother André Mottais served as an instrument of providence in the foundation of what came to be known as the religious family of Holy Cross. He played an essential role in the development of the Brothers of Saint Joseph of Ruillé-sur-Loir and in the eventual transfer of the community to the authority of Father Moreau. And yet, perhaps his greatest contribution to the story of Holy Cross is that of a humble and extraordinary religious, who, even today, gives example to his brothers.
Stained glass window of Holy Cross religious in the Missions, Shrine of Blessed Basil Moreau
Letter from Father Basil Moreau to his Brothers
Savigné-l’Évêque, March 20, 1844
My dear Brothers,
In answer to your New Year’s greetings last January, I asked myself what trials were in store for me in the new year. I never dreamed that among them would be the sad loss of one of the older Brothers for whom I had the greatest esteem and affection, in whom I had placed unlimited confidence, and whom the General Council had appointed as assistant and counsellor in my administrative duties. His age and good health appeared to give every assurance of long years of service in the Institute of Saint Joseph. I refer to Brother André, who died after a long illness at Notre-Dame de Sainte-Croix on Saturday, March 16, at eight in the evening, fortified by all the consolations of religion. All of you, my dear Brothers, will feel keenly the great loss your Society has suffered in the person of him who I have just commended to your prayers. For my own part, I am deeply grieved, because his words and example had made him a model of religious life for us all. Besides, he did much to keep discipline among our boarders of Notre-Dame de Sainte-Croix, where he also taught penmanship and book-keeping. Thus, he is honored with the sincere sorrow of all who lived with him. On the day of his funeral, priests, Brothers, Sisters, and students all mourned him with me. He well deserved these marks of esteem, and it will be a consolation for me to tell you at the next retreat how we were edified by his sentiments, his resolutions, and the whole general tenor of his conduct. May you, my dear Brothers, sweeten for me the bitterness of this new cross by increased devotion to the duties of your holy vocation! May you profit by the great lesson which death teaches all of us in order to draw closer ot him who alone will remain with us when it is our turn to leave everything to meet again only in Eternity.[…]
Yours in the Hearts of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,
16 newly discovered letters addressed to his family by Brother André Mottais
The letters were transcribed from the originals, which are in varying states of disrepair. For the purpose of harmony, and to facilitate the reading of the letters, we have altered spelling and capitalization to conform to current usage. We have also expanded abbreviations. Textual gaps were restored, to the extent possible, and are indicated by brackets. When translating
into English, we attempted to preserve the structure of the text in order to respect the manner of expression of the era and/or of the author himself.
(Links will be inserted as the letters become available for viewing.)
9. Letter dated 09-01-1828
10. Letter dated 09-15-1829
11. Letter dated 05-12-1832
12. Letter dated 09-09-1832
13. Letter dated 09-16-1837
14. Letter dated 05-06-1838
15. Letter dated 10-03-1842
16. Letter dated 10-14-1842
My very dear family,
I have taken the liberty of writing to you because the occasion presented itself: our household servant came to Laval the 6th. I am still in marvelous health and I desire nothing more than to learn that the same is true for you.
I hope that you received a letter not long ago which should have been dated November 27, but which I forgot to date. You know that the letter told you to respond as quickly as possible because I am anxious to know of everyone’s health. You are no longer ignorant of mine. As I write you this letter, I am also writing one to the curé of Larchamp, who is not ignorant of my state. I am well-suited to Ruillé. I already have five confreres and many more are supposed to come. I am not telling you to pay my respects to our [other] relatives since I told you to do so in a previous letter. I believe that I will be exempt [from obligatory military service], but that not yet being sure, I urge you to fear not about it. I hope that I will teach well little Joseph, my dear brother, when the time comes. I have great plans for him, if the good God preserves him. I have the same fondness for the others, and I will always be faithful to you all, my very dear family.
Papa, Mama, Jean, François, Joseph, Jeannette, and Marie, my sister-in-law, I wish all of you a blessed year, perfect health, peace, unity, harmony, calm in your hearts, joy in God, prosperity in all your affairs, and all that you could desire. I wish you the blessings of heaven, the fruitfulness of earth, and, to all, paradise at the end of our days. I wish the same for my godmother and her husband. All that we could possibly desire is in God. It is heaven,
my dear family, that we should desire. All these blessings are promised to us, and it is up to us to acquire them. God wills it and the time is now. Let us work therefore at acquiring them and may all be for the glory of God.
So may it be.
André Mottais, pupil at Ruillé
P.S. I will write to you around the month of February.
To Monsieur Mottais the Father, in Pompairain [Pontperrin], to read in their house at Larchamp)
Le Mans, this 25 July 1821
For the greater glory of God.
My dear Papa, my dear Mama,
Read [this] together with my brothers and sisters.
I thank you greatly for sending me that which I needed. I would prefer [it] that you would have not sent me this money, which I would have still done fine without, and [for which] you have perhaps a greater need! These messieurs are obligated to provide me with money as it is they who lead me [here]. It is, nevertheless, a consequence of their goodness.
Up to this moment I have not said much to you about my vocation. I pray you to please give me your opinion. I am about to be received. You know that for a long time now it would appear that divine providence destines me for the education of souls. We have again felt the happy results with regard to my exemption [from military service]. We all were lucky [in the lottery draft] and so we are all still here. It is to God that we owe this unusual grace. There is only little Joseph remaining. I believe that, in time, Providence will provide a way for him to avoid this danger.
This institution is new and, consequently, they intend for me to be its first teacher; that is to say, to instruct the young brothers and perhaps to form some of them, for some time, at a superior level. Do not believe that this is due to merit, it is required to have one [to form the young brothers], whoever it may be. We will make three vows: the vow of chastity, the vow of obedience, the vow of poverty. Our clothing will be a cassock, but I do not know anything else about the clothing. It’s not yet decided. It is for the month of August, at the priests’ retreat.
I will hardly be able to give you worldly aid; Monsieur le cure tells me that is only done in case of necessity and by order of the superior. At any rate, if I am not able to help you by material means, I will help you by my prayers at the feet of altars where I will never forget you. Consider, my dear family, that spiritual goods are much more sure than earthly goods. From time immemorial the Lord has loved the poor and of this he himself has given us an example. But let us say: “Lord, deign to bless the little that we possess and we will be happier in poor clothing than kings wearing [the royal] purple.” I will be able, I believe, to provide for the education of my brothers and sisters. When there will be a brother in Larchamp, Joseph should be placed there, because as soon as one is there, you will see [sic]. I will, incidentally, recommend to him to take care of the little one.
You will have the consolation of seeing me in the service of God and staying in the diocese; then, if I am sick, the community will support me. If I were simply a school teacher in Larchamp when or how would I be able to help you? If I were to fall ill, I would only be a burden to you, here, not at all.
I will write to you and I will come back from time to time. Once I have received the habit, I will send to you the clothing that I have now and that will no longer be useful to me, if Monsieur le curé of Ruillé permits me to do so. Do not give the present letter to anyone to read, and write to me at the earliest. The other letter is not secret.
Come now, my family, let us embrace one another with tenderness. I pray for you; pray for me so that God accomplish his designs.
So may it be.
From Mayenne, 28 August 1821
My very dear father, my very dear mother,
If I hasten to write you these lines, it is so that I might be informed as to the state of your health as well as that of my brothers and sister. As for mine, it is very good at present; even so, I have had trouble with my eyes, but I did not have to employ any remedies; they are not troubling me now.
I was very saddened to learn of the loss of your mare, but alas, I join you in the sorrow that you have had about that. But, it is so, God gives us all that we possess; why should we not receive the difficulties that it pleases him to send us? Let us therefore endure with patience following the example of the holy man Job; may difficulties serve only to strengthen us in virtue. Let us be like the large rocks in the sea that the winds and the tempest and the waves are unable to shake. But when we see ourselves afflicted, let us think that it is God who still has plans for us and that he thinks about us. My very dear father and my very dear mother, I assure you of my respect and my most tender obedience. Most friendly regards to my brother Jean and his wife, to my brother François and to my sister Jeannette and to my brother Joseph. As for the latter, I pray him to not be mean, and to be obedient to Papa and to Mama and to your godfather and others.
My dear brothers and sister, be always obedient to our father and to our mother; nothing must discourage you from doing their will so that God will not be offended. Oh my dear children, how obedience is a beautiful virtue, especially with regard to children being obedient to their fathers and mothers. Alas! I repent of not having obeyed more beginning from my most tender youth; it is why you must not forget the most important obligation. Have courage in your studies.
I pray you to pay my respects to my godmother and to her husband Marin, and to Julien Hameau, to all their household and to our Labbé family and to François Fournier and others.
I lack nothing at present but still I might go away on the 8th of September because M. Lefoulon will maybe go to Larchamp and he will take there my singing teacher. It is not sure, however.
My dear father and my dear mother, I now finish speaking to you. I embrace you with all my heart, as well as my brothers and sister. I wish for you the best of health, and I assure you of all my respect. I wish you blessings from heaven and fruitfulness of the earth.
Pupil of Mayenne.
Ruillé this 23 December 1821
To the greater glory of Jesus and Mary
My very dear family,
I could not depict for you the joy that I felt from your letter. I read it and reread it with renewed interest. I am delighted to see that you are in good health and that the Lord deigned to reward your work. I hope that he will reward mine also; because I am right now
in a lot of work, but I fear very much that I will not be worthy of it. I am responsible for the direction of 7 novices and soon will be faced with more. You see [in me] the third brother of our congregation. I cannot send you my clothes.
My dear family, it is with a new satisfaction that I see arrive the time of the new year for renewing to you the desires and the wishes that I address to Heaven for your perfect happiness and your preservation [in health]. I desire that this year be for you, as well as for
me, a path of blessings. I say the same to our relatives Labbé as well as to my godmother, to her husband and to his brother Julien.
Be well persuaded of my sincere attachment and of the profound respect with which I have the honor to be, in embracing you with all my heart, my very dear family, your v[ery] h[umble] and v[ery] o[bedient] son,
PS: Please offer my very humble respects to Monsieur Loro. I commend myself to your prayers as well as to those of our family. Little Joseph will be instructed for free.
Paris, this 29 May 1822
My very dear family,
I learned with much sorrow of the death of my sister-in-law. I understand all too easily the trouble and the difficulty that you are going to endure once again due to the poor children that she has surely left behind, and, left behind in great indigence. But never mind, you must not give way to sadness because nothing has happened in this other than that which God has willed. So, let us receive it as coming from his all-powerful hand and let us bless the hand when it strikes us, because it is a sign that the Lord yet has designs of mercy upon us. Let us be well persuaded of it.
You ask me what I think about my brother Jean leaving his land [farming] to take up carpentry. My dear parents, do according to your will, but that which I have to say to you on this, I have considered before God that you have already had much pain and weariness and you have, as it were, exhausted yourselves in order that he have a living and you see that it has not succeeded as we were saying it would. But that is not all of it, you would not be settled with it if he were wanting to take care of his land, and, since that always was his idea to learn this trade, I believe that it is the wiser bet that you could make.
Yes, my dear brother, but it will be necessary to take great care in order to comport yourself as an honest man all the days of your life. Think well that there is nothing you must think of more than of your salvation and of that of your children. So, see if the obstacles to salvation, which are encountered in this state [carpentry trade] will not carry you away, because if you were expecting to let yourself go in bad company, which are so frequent there, it would be better to take up another [trade] where there would be less danger. That which I tell you must not prevent you from doing what will seem good to you, but I believe that it is only right that you unload from yourself a burden that has weighed upon you for so long. You have well seen that I had not received [word of] this development when I wrote to you.
I pray you to offer my respects to my uncle of Andouillé. Tell him, please, that I am very embarrassed of myself for not having expressed to him my gratitude for his generous present.
M[onsieur] the Curé sent me for some time to the novitiate of the Brothers of the Christian schools. You ask me that I go soon to see you. I do not know if I will go; because I must deprive myself of it by mortification. However, if M[onsieur] the Curé were to want it, I would go.
Let us unite ourselves together by fervent prayers addressed to heaven, [for our] I am with all the sincerity of the most profound respect, my very dear family, your very humble and very obedient son,
P.S. My respects, please, to M[onsieur] the Curé and to M[onsieur] his vicar.
Le 23 December 1825
My very dear family,
The moment that we were all desiring for so long is well nigh. In a month I hope that you will have me near you; my joy increases as I approach Larchamp.
M[onsieur] Dujarié, our venerable father, made me leave two days before my feast day so as to go, in my capacity as inspector, to the places where we have brothers in order to visit classes; it has been 8 days since I passed through Le Mans. I am in Saint-Denis d’Orques, 8 leagues away from Le Mans, at this moment. I am going to spend here the Christmas feasts. This position in which Providence has placed me is all at once important, difficult, and arduous. Pray God that he comes to my aid, because I have great need of it. That which bothers me very much in this rushing, it is my weak health, with which I have to continually struggle.
My intention would have been to write to M[onsieur] the curé of Larchamp but I have not had the time to do it. Offer him my very humble respect, and my friendly regards to brother Vincent. I will console my brother François when I am at the house. Tell him that I am very touched by his affliction which is also yours. Tell him also that the Lord who sent it to him as well as to us can remedy it and he will do it, of this I am convinced. May he have a great confidence in God and he will not leave him in this state. I have been praying for his healing for a long time now, may he commend himself at least 3 times a day to the very holy Virgin, to saint Louis de Gonzague [Saint Aloysius de Gonzaga] and to saint Stanislas Kostka.
Adieu, I embrace you all with all my heart.
Ruillé, 13 March 1826
My dear parents,
I finally arrived at Ruillé on March 10, I hasten to note it to you. I am doing well and my trip was much more favorable at the end than at the beginning. Our dear brothers awaited my return with impatience, and I myself was hastening [my return] with impatience also. And I can say that it was with great joy that I saw Ruillé again. This joy was no less than that which I experienced as soon as I saw Larchamp again.
I offer my compliments and my respects to my brothers and sister and sister-in-law, as well as to my [male] cousin and to my [female] cousin Mérienne. Do not forget me, I pray you, especially before M. the Curé to whom I offer my thanks and my most profound respect.
I saw our good father M. Dujarié again with a joy that I would not know [how] to express.
Accept my profound respect with which I am, while embracing you, my dear parents, your very humble and obedient son,
To M[onsieur] Mottais in Pompairain [Pontperrin], parish of Larchamp, near Ernée. At Ernée, Mayenne.
Ruillé-sur-Loir, 25 June 1827
You are concerned to not receive news from me, as brother Vincent told me. I told you in my new year’s letter in the month of December last, that I was considering visiting Larchamp at the latest right after Easter. But, as you know, man proposes and God disposes, I found myself obliged to spend Lent at Ruillé for several reasons, the details of which would be too long. I set out after the Octave of Easter to visit our dear brothers in the dioceses of Blois and of Tours. I came down with, a month after my departure, a minor ache in the foot that we were able to heal only by staying in bed. Firstly, I did not want to stay there, but that way I would only be putting off, or rather prolonging, my healing.
However, the retreat approaches and we will have it in two months or a little after two months, which is the time of our major projects. You see there remains hardly any time for traveling to our establishments. Nevertheless, I believe I will be setting off soon to go probably near to Mayenne and to Larchamp. Do not count too much on this all the same, because I do not know what could occur. Thus, if I did not write to you earlier, it is that I believed I would see you before the [feast of] Saint John.
I was very sympathetic to the misfortune of the son Marin Mérienne, one must console oneself by the thought that all that happens in this world below is only by the order and the permission of God. Since providence destines him to be a soldier, may he do his duty well and the Lord will be with him.
My brother Joseph no longer writes to me, I who tasted so much pleasure in reading his letters. I think without ceasing of my brothers and sister. Regarding my sister, I will tell you that which I think of the affair which concerns her when I see you. What I will tell you will hardly satisfy her, any more than it will me. To finish, I tell you that those who serve God well live happily and hardly fear to be surprised by death.
I greet you with much respect and I love you in Jesus Christ our L[ord],
P.S. Yesterday, the day of Saint John, I received communion in the intention of Papa and of Mama and of those who carry their name in the house.
I learned of the death of my cousin Mottais.
My respects and compliments to everyone as usual. I embrace my brothers and sister, etc.
Ruillé-sur-Loir, this 1st September 1828
My dear Papa and my dear Mama,
I returned to Ruillé in good health, thank God. The 9th of August I was a little tired because I had traversed the diocese on foot and I had been as far as Saumur, and that, after having stopped at your house. But they made me bathe my entire body upon my return, such that I found myself to be healthy and happy as a river fish. The retreat came 11 days later, which gave me work, but now it is finished and everyone soon back at our establishments.
Our Superior asked me for news from you before I had given him some of yours; I presented him with your respects and your compliments and he well received them.
You welcomed me so well that I think of it often with kindness and I love you all more than ever, also I do not forget you in my prayers and my thoughts often turn to you.
The affairs of the government are not going any better than they were a month ago; nor, I believe, are they getting worse. One always fears for the faith. One tells us nothing – nothing more than usual.
Brother Joseph Bourdon returned to Ruillé for the retreat, he is staying with us permanently and no longer wants to leave his state [as a brother]. He is meant for the boarding school of Ruillé that we are going to manage.
I am still resolved to give my life for Jesus Christ if I find at some point the occasion, and I would like very much that the Good God bestows on me this grace to go to heaven straightaway.
I embrace you all with all my heart and I pray God to keep you unto eternal life.