A Holy Cross Education

In the aftermath of the French Revolution, the quality of educational, parochial and pastoral services was slow in recovering. Even after three decades, discouragement was often the lens through which people looked toward the future. Blessed Basil Moreau entered this arena as a man of hope, convinced of humanity's goodness and potential, recognizing the "image of God imprinted" within all people. He embraced the call to be an evangelizer, an educator and a missionary. He was passionate and purposeful about making a difference in the world. Nothing less than the future of religion and society was at stake. In this conviction and call, this passion and purpose, we find the roots of Holy Cross education.

Moreau was prophetic in his student-centered approach to education and a pioneer in designing a curriculum that could be a social equalizer. He was an advocate and promoter of Catholic social teaching at a time when ease of access to education, workers' rights, social equality and service to the poor, abandoned and underprivileged were tentative concepts and inconsistent practices. He knew what needed to be done to revitalize education, parish life and social services, and he called others to take up the work with him.

The work began in a neighborhood, a suburb of Le Mans, France -- Holy Cross by name. In that neighborhood, a school was built that would become a premier college-preparatory institution. Within that neighborhood, a religious community of brothers, priests and sisters would be born -- the Congregation of Holy Cross. From that neighborhood, these religious would be sent to work with their colleagues in schools, parishes, hospitals and in many other contexts among the people, first in France and then internationally. Today, the family of Holy Cross lives and ministers in 16 countries on five continents.

Father Moreau knew that the transformation needed by society and the church would engage the people of Holy Cross in a "Work of resurrection". Through that work, in all its forms, they would "work of resurrection". Through that work, in all its forms, they would "contribute to preparing the world for better times than ours". This contribution, and the efforts to transform society in the present and for the future, constitutes the charism of Holy Cross even today.

Holy Cross educators have identified four pillars and four themes as the core values that serve as the basic foundations and strategies through which educators inform and form students who, in turn, can become agents of transformation for a better future in neighborhoods, cities, countries and even the world.

In the Beginning

In September of 1966, Archbishop O’Brien announced that an all-boys Roman Catholic High School in Waterbury was scheduled to open in September 1968. The school was to be located in the southwest section of Waterbury on 31 acres of land at the intersection of Bradley Avenue and Oronoke Road. The original plans, done by the architectural firm of Russell, Gibson and Von Dohlen of West Hartford, were designed to accommodate 1,200 students, parking for 400 cars and facilities for an extensive physical education program. Holy Cross High School’s groundbreaking ceremony, on May 5, 1967, represented the culmination of a 15-year effort to bring an all-boys Roman Catholic High School to Waterbury. The Brothers of Holy Cross, Eastern Province, had agreed to staff the new facility. According to their Mission Statement, the Brothers were then, as now, “committed to assisting parents in the responsibility which is theirs, not only by stressing the academic, social, and physical well-being of the individual student, but also by giving each student a greater appreciation of his/her personal dignity and worth.” The Brothers’ “ultimate aim is to educate students so that they will grow into the Christian maturity which is necessary to make decisions in the light of the Christian vision of Redemption.”

Br. Robert Fontaine, CSC, coordinated the opening of Holy Cross High School and eventually served as the school’s first guidance counselor. The first entrance exam was administered at Sacred Heart High School, on February 24, 1968. One hundred and twenty boys from the West End and Bunker Hill areas of Waterbury participated in the testing. Through continued recruitment efforts, 325 students were scheduled to begin their studies at Holy Cross High School. The staff, headed by first Principal Br. Patrick Halpin, CSC, numbered 10. It was expected that eight classrooms and the Brothers’ residence would be completed by September 1, 1968.

However, progress was hampered by a strike in the steel metal trades. Consequently, students had to use the classrooms of Waterbury Catholic High School from 2:15pm until 5:07pm each afternoon. As Waterbury Catholic closed for the day, Holy Cross began its school day.

On October 7, 1968, Holy Cross High School opened its doors. Outside it was a rainy, cold and muddy day. Inside, the students found a warm and beautifully appointed building.Holy Cross offered college preparatory and general academic programs that included courses required by the state of Connecticut and most colleges. Also, some elective courses were available in order to round out the academic program for all students. In 1968 the tuition was $290.00, which included a $5.00 registration fee and a $10.00 activity fee. In September 1969, Holy Cross was rejected for membership in the Naugatuck Valley League. The reason given by the league president was, “Holy Cross is not a member of the CIAC.” Holy Cross was in the process of applying for the accreditation needed before the school could join the CIAC. In May 1970, Holy Cross once again applied for membership in the NVL and once again was rejected. This time the rejection came because of the school’s large size, all-male enrollment and its ability to draw across school boundary lines. However, in the spring of 1971 another vote was taken, and the young and strong Holy Cross was granted admission into the NVL for the 1971-1972 school year.


Br. Richard MacDonald, CSC, second Principal of Holy Cross, began a one-year term of office in the fall of 1970. Under his guidance and direction the school continued to increase in number and received recognition for high academic standards. In the spring of 1971 Br. Francis Leary, CSC, was named principal. Br. Francis began his tenure with an enrollment of 800 students. The term that characterized the school at this time was “experimental.”

Modular scheduling allowed for far greater flexibility in the scheduling of classes. During this period of time students from Notre Dame Academy attended some upper division science courses with Holy Cross students. Both campuses welcomed each other into their classrooms.

During these early years strong student participation was the hallmark of Holy Cross. The Holy Cross Crusader basketball team ended its season ranked number one in the class LL division. In three years, coach Tim McDonald had been able to move the team from a 2-18 record to a 20-0 record. Holy Cross became the first team in the city to have an undefeated season since Crosby, in 1921-1922. Mr. Jim Harris, the first lay person on the staff, coached football and baseball. The swim and track teams enjoyed a successful year and the Christian Encounter was a popular retreat program attended by many Holy Cross students and faculty members. Students were involved in Christian service and volunteered their time and energies to Waterbury’s various inner-city programs. In 1974-75, as Holy Cross entered its seventh year, enrollment was 1,000. Br. Francis Leary, CSC, continued as principal, and the staff included 23 Holy Cross Brothers, 27 lay teachers and three priests. A planned merger with Waterbury Catholic High School was scheduled to occur in 1976. However, due to a series of unforeseen events, the merger was effective September 1975. Sr. Joanne Drinane, CND, principal at Waterbury Catholic High, became vice principal of Holy Cross. After the merger, Holy Cross High School enjoyed an enrollment of well over 1,400 students. The faculty numbered 90, including 35 religious and priests.

The next three years were a period of stabilization. During this time, Holy Cross began the serious work of self-evaluation in preparation for seeking full accreditation by the New England Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges. The greatest challenge was to formulate and articulate a comprehensive philosophy that would embrace all elements of the school community. Holy Cross was granted full accreditation, arriving at a very significant milestone for such a young institution. During these years of unprecedented growth, the need for funding necessary improvements and ever-expanding programs led to the establishment of the Development Office (now Advancement Office). Monies raised through development efforts were earmarked to assist families with continually increasing tuition costs and to establish some support base for meeting salaries and benefits for a significantly expanded lay faculty.

In 1980, Brother Harold Hathaway, CSC was appointed the fourth Principal of Holy Cross. During the 1980s, Holy Cross High School continued to gain distinction as a significant educational institution in the state of Connecticut. In 1989, the administration was restructured, Br. Harold Hathaway, CSC, became Head of School and Mr. Tim McDonald became the first lay Principal.

The Commitment and Tradition Continue

In 1992, Br. Jerome Donnelly, CSC, was named the second chief administrator of Holy Cross. Throughout the 1990s and into the new century, Holy Cross continued to grow in excellence.

Block scheduling was implemented in 1997, and quickly became popular among the students and faculty. The instructional model of block scheduling called for the extension of classroom periods to 80 minutes. An increased time period allowed teachers and students to delve more deeply into subject matter and increase activity-based learning and group-oriented learning strategies.

Institutional Advancement oversaw the implementation of numerous capital projects including: a 400-meter outdoor track, the introduction and establishment of computer technology areas, the creation of an internet-based research center for students in the library, the expansion of all athletic programs, an increased number of extracurricular activities available to students and the addition of the Stephen J. Ross Memorial Fitness Center. Students continued to enhance the mission and embrace the philosophy of Christian service by offering their talents and strengths to serve the needs of the people in the community.

Information technology, in support of the school’s mission, is consistently upgraded and integrated throughout the learning experience. There is widespread use in the classroom, math lab, foreign language lab, English writing lab, computer-assisted science rooms, two computer technology rooms, and an Internet-connected research and resource area in the Brother James Kane, C.S.C., Media Center.

In the spring of 2004, Holy Cross unveiled the $2 million Alix Family Art and Technology Center which revolutionized the way the school community, past, present and future, gathers together for celebrations, meetings and other school-related activities. The Center includes three digital classrooms and two art studios.

Other major capital improvements and upgrades took place during and after the first decade of the new millennium. These included the Fryer Family Chemistry Lab, the two Brother Harold Hathaway, C.S.C. Life Science Labs, a state-of-the-art language lab, a guidance complex, the 740-seat Blasius Family Auditorium, The Monteiro Family Sports Medicine Facility, the Timothy J. McDonald Gymnasium, the Brother John Paige, C.S.C. Locker Rooms, the Stephen J. Ross Memorial Fitness Center and Alumni Field.

The school administration also grew and evolved upon President Timothy McDonald’s retirement in 2015. Frank H. Samuelson, Jr. ’73 and Margaret Leger succeeded him in 2015 and 2017, respectively. Dr. Thomas C. Pellegrino and Thomas Pompei were  named President and Principal, respectively, on July 1, 2019. 

Our Alumni

Holy Cross has an active alumni body comprised of approximately 12,000. Many continue their relationship with the school as a volunteer, a legacy parent, a donor or all the above. They have offered their services at several school events. Some have also served on the Board of Directors. Our alumni show their generosity through donations to the Annual Fund, Capital projects and various scholarships. Alumni involvement continues to be an important part of our endeavor to educate young men and women for the future.

The culture of Holy Cross High School lives out the philosophy of its founders and reflects a commitment to implementing the mission of the school. Respect for the individual and the school’s philosophy characterizes daily operations. Courtesy, competence, diligence, punctuality and affability are the norm. Standards of conduct that dignify rather than demean are practiced and encouraged with regularity. Perhaps the best proof of such claims is the decision of Holy Cross alumni to send their children to their alma mater. Each year the number of second-generation Crusaders in our classrooms grows.

Holy Cross Today

Holy Cross has spent the last five decades as a Greater Waterbury icon and an educational beacon for legions of students. The school continues to serve families from more than 30 cities and towns. A large percentage of our students live in Greater Waterbury area, but some travel as far as Torrington, Newtown and Southington.

Holy Cross consistently updates and upgrades aspects of its program to meet the needs of a more diverse student body. Numerous honors and AP courses are offered. The student to faculty ratio is 11 to 1 with an average class size of 20 students. The total number of faculty/staff is 64. Sixty percent hold master’s degrees, and several have double master’s degrees or sixth year degrees. Since the establishment of the school, the faculty and staff have committed themselves to the complete education of their students.

All students take a college preparatory course load, which includes English, arts, world languages, mathematics, health and physical education, religious studies, science, social studies, technology and electives. Advanced Placement courses are offered in English, mathematics, foreign languages, social studies, science, music and art. Ninety-nine percent of our graduates continue their education after graduation by enrolling in two- or four-year colleges and universities. Holy Cross believes in creating an environment that is most conducive to learning.

Success in interscholastic athletics continues with approximately 70% of our students participating in 25 varsity sports and with teams winning league and state championships. Students may join or be selected to participate in the more than 40 clubs and organizations ranging from Book Club to Crusade for a Cure (supporting American Cancer Society events) to Holy Cross Student Theatre.

Holy Cross students have ample leadership opportunities. Students in National Honor Society, Peer Ministry, Student Council, Senior Life Board, Athletic Council and Student Activities take the lead in several school events and community service initiatives. Student government plays an active role in the life of the school and has been the recipient of regional and national leadership and service awards.

Holy Cross educates the hearts as well as the minds. We give our students the appropriate tools to live happy and fulfilled lives, long after they graduate from high school. The Guidance Department delivers counseling support on academic and social issues, as well as extensive college and career planning. Campus Ministry provides spiritual guidance to students through retreats, peer ministry, community service opportunities and the celebration of Catholic tradition throughout the entire school year.

While facilities have developed and programs have evolved, the Holy Cross DNA has not changed since its’ opening in 1968. An education framed in the Holy Cross tradition educates the entire student. It provides a framework which fosters integration of the spiritual, intellectual, emotional, physical and social growth of each individual. This charge has been met by the countless individuals who branch out of our school’s family tree – the Brothers of Holy Cross, Board members, administration, faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents, grandparents and friends.

At fifty years, we are just beginning.