Message from the President: Norbertine General Chapter

Aug. 6, 2012

To our alumni friends:

To those of you of a certain age — and you know who you are — you might have experienced a sense of déjà vu if you were around campus in the past two weeks. Once again dozens and dozens of white robes could be seen traversing the emerald lawns, as if it were 1967 again and Norbertines still constituted a big percentage of our faculty and administration.

What was going on? Well, St. Norbert College had the privilege of playing host to Norbertine priests, sisters, brothers and associates for the order’s global chapter meeting, which only happens every six years. In fact, this was but the second time in the order’s nine-century history that the chapter was taken outside Europe. (The first was also in De Pere, but at the Norbertine Abbey, in 1976.)

The chapter brought together some 130 abbots, priors and other representatives from Norbertine institutions from all around the world. Because they come together so infrequently there is always much business to be done, and the days were packed with meetings, debates and formal proceedings — all rendered simultaneously into eight different languages. The Fort Howard Theater, with its rows of translation booths, looked like a mini-United Nations.

But it wasn’t all work and no play. The college hosted a reception and dinner at Lambeau Field, where the stadium tours were so popular with our guests that they might as well have traded their white wear for some green and gold. Elsewhere they enjoyed a moonlight excursion on the Fox River, and on yet another perfect night, with about 1,100 non-Norbertines alongside, they took in an all-Sousa concert at our Knights on the Fox music series.

The delegates all knew of St. Norbert College, of course, but until the chapter meeting the vast majority of them had never been here. I’m happy to say they were deeply impressed by what they found, and not just by SNC’s obvious quality as an academic institution. They relished everything from the attentive expertise of our staff to the pleasant accommodations to the delicious meals — in other words, our own version of Norbertine radical hospitality. They were also delighted to see and learn about our Center for Norbertine Studies, in the Mulva Library, which is a scholarly repository of the order’s history, literature, culture, art and artifacts.

Hosting the chapter was also a pleasure for us because, over the years, we have gotten to know many of the abbots and other Norbertines from our European heritage tours. Indeed, just a month ago Deb and I and several other key administrators were traversing a number of abbeys, from the sprawling Tongerlo and Averbode abbeys in northern Belgium to the contemplative quiet of Mondaye in the Normandy region of France. A particular highlight was visiting the place where, from a Norbertine perspective, it all began — Prémontré, the little French village that gave the Premonstratensians their name and where, even now, a few walls of St. Norbert’s original stone chapel are still bearing witness.

(Incidentally, our media relations director, Mike Counter, kept a wonderful blog of the tour. So if you’d like a flavor of what you missed, follow this link)

Our journey again reminded us that the Norbertines have outlasted innumerable wars, plagues, dictators, revolutions, the Reformation, socialism, communism, anti-intellectualism and anti-clericalism. Seeing their history first-hand is always a valuable reminder about why sound and firmly held values will, in the end, surmount any impediment.

At Tongerlo abbey I was much taken with a crest that is prominently displayed in the front courtyard. We were told it dates back several centuries, and it bears the personal motto of the abbot of that time. The crest features two tortoises and two leaping stags, and at the bottom is inscribed the Latin motto: Festina Lente. Rough translation: Hurry slowly.

I saw it and smiled. Buy all the fancy management books you want — I dare you to find better advice than that.

Tom