Congregation of Holy Cross Elects First Non-Priest Superior General

The Vatican confirmed Brother Bednarczyk’s election on July 4.

Brother Paul Bednarczyk, CSC, who was elected superior general of the Congregation of Holy Cross July 1, 2022, speaks at the National Religious Vocation Conference in Plano, Texas, November 1, 2012.
Brother Paul Bednarczyk, CSC, who was elected superior general of the Congregation of Holy Cross July 1, 2022, speaks at the National Religious Vocation Conference in Plano, Texas, November 1, 2012. (photo: National Religious Vocation Conference / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0))

The Congregation of Holy Cross has elected the Connecticut-born Brother Paul Bednarczyk, as superior general. He is the first non-priest to head the congregation, as allowed under a change to church law approved by Pope Francis.

“I am humbled and grateful for the confidence and trust of my brothers in Holy Cross for allowing me the privilege to serve as their Superior General,” he said in a statement after his July 1 election by the congregation’s general chapter.

The Congregation of Holy Cross was founded in France in 1837 by Blessed Basile Moreau, a priest who grew up during the French Revolution. The congregation has two separate societies for religious brothers and religious priests, which its constitutions say are “bound together in one indivisible brotherhood.” Its members work, pray, and live united by a “common founder, tradition, rule, government, way of life, and mission.”

The congregation has over 1,200 perpetually professed religious brothers and priests serving in 16 countries, the congregation website says. The Holy Cross mission has long focused on education. The congregation helped found the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and still plays a leading role at the university.

Until his election as general superior, Brother Bednarczyk has served as the congregation’s vicar general and first assistant, living in Rome at the Holy Cross Generalate.

Canon law for “mixed” religious institutes, those which have both priests and religious brothers as members, had long required superiors general to be priests.

In May 2022 the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life announced that Pope Francis had granted an exception to this law and would allow the congregation to grant exceptions on a discretionary basis.

The change mirrored an innovation by Pope Francis to allow not just clerics but “any member of the faithful” to lead a dicastery of the Roman Curia.

The Vatican confirmed Brother Bednarczyk’s election on July 4.

“The Holy Father’s decision to allow a brother to serve as Supreme Moderator in a mixed congregation of priests and brothers is an unprecedented affirmation and validation of the religious brother’s vocation in the Church,” Bednarczyk commented.

The Congregation of Holy Cross said its structures have emphasized the common dignity of both priest and brother members. An equal number of priests and brothers compose both the congregation’s general chapters and the governing general council.

Brother Bednarczyk was born in New Haven and graduated from Notre Dame High School in West Haven in 1975. He pursued his vocation through the congregation’s Eastern Province of Brothers, with formation at Moreau Hall at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts.

Brother Bednarczyk professed first vows in 1979 at Sacred Heart Church in Bennington, Vermont. He professed final vows in 1985 at St. Joseph Center in Valatie, New York. 

He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Stonehill College and a master’s degree in religion and religious education from Fordham University. 

For twelve years he worked at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland, and Notre Dame International School in Rome, Italy as a teacher, administrator, and campus minister. He served as his province’s vocation director, formation director, and provincial council member.

In 2002, he became executive director of the National Religious Vocation Conference, a body of more than 900 religious vocation directors from 15 countries. In this role, Brother Bednarczyk was a consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations. 

He has served on the advisory board of Praesidium Religious Services, an abuse prevention consultancy firm. He has also served on several international Holy Cross commissions and the corporate board of Holy Cross Family Ministries, which promotes Catholic prayer and spirituality for families.

He is a member of the Congregation of Holy Cross’ Moreau Province, whose headquarters are in Austin, Texas.

Brother Bednarczyk assumes his responsibilities as Congregation of Holy Cross’ fourteenth superior general on July 8. He succeeds Wisconsin-born Fr. Robert L. Epping, who has served as superior general since 2016.