2007 Distinguished Service AwardThe Right Reverend Gary J. Neville, O.Praem ’73
In 2003, Fr. Gary Neville was elected to a nine-year term as Abbot of St. Norbert Abbey. Like so many changes and challenges in his life as a Norbertine, this was both an unexpected and unwanted one. Abbot Neville’s overriding desire throughout his career has been to be a teacher and priest; yet, his special talents have been recognized and utilized as he has served a variety of administrative positions in schools and in the Norbertine religious community. As he says, these “were not positions that I sought, but were ones that I was asked to accept. In all cases, they gave me the opportunity and the challenge to stretch myself and my gifts.”
Well, “stretch” he has! Academically, he graduated Cum Laude from St. Norbert College with an English major. He went on to earn a Master of Divinity degree from Chicago’s Catholic Theological Union, and a Master’s Degree and a PhD/JCD in Canon Law from Canada’s St. Paul University and the University of Ottawa. His love of teaching was nourished for nearly 20 years as an English instructor at Premontre High School/Notre Dame Academy, and at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. To Abbot Neville, “Teaching young minds is a sacred responsibility, and it gives one the opportunity to impact, to influence the future more often in ways that one may never know.” His abiding love of literature and his particular teaching style were greatly influenced by his English professors, Bob Boyer and Ken Zahorski.
Does being a book store manager eventually lead to being Abbot? Well, that was just one of Abbot Neville’s assignments, in addition to teaching English and Theology, while he was at Premontre High School. How about being Vice-Principal, Registrar, English Department Chairperson, Forensics Coach; or being responsible for hiring and evaluating teachers, student and teacher scheduling, development of curriculum?
Since those first days at Premontre, Abbot Neville’s career has included nearly 20 years as a Canonical Consultant for several religious communities, being Matrimonial Tribunal Judge for the Diocese of Green Bay, Member of St. Norbert College’s Board of Trustees; a Member of the Corporate Boards of Delaware’s Archmere Academy, Catholic Theological Union and Notre Dame de la Baie Academy. In 2006, he was elected First Definitor of the Norbertine Order, a position that made him a member of the world-wide Norbertine Order’s Abbot General’s Council and, in effect, “second in command.”
As busy as Abbot Neville is, he still finds time to pursue a deep interest in photography and to read as much as he can, with his likes varying from theology and spirituality to who-done-it novels.
When his term as Abbot ends in five years, Abbot Neville hopes to work in a parish and focus more on priestly ministry. Whatever he does, you can be assured it will be done well and commensurate with his approach to life: “I was taught at an early age to set my sights on a goal and diligently work toward it. If something is worth doing, it is worth doing to the best of one’s ability or not at all. One’s goals, while brining some self-satisfaction, should also work toward making this world a better place.”