St. Norbert College Magazine
Fall 2007 | A Sense of Identity
A Lovely Convergence: Today's Students are Connected to a Long Tradition
By Mike Dauplaise ’84
Catholic, Norbertine liberal arts...it's a set of uniquely relevant attributes that connect today's students with a long tradition.
The times have changed since Abbot Bernard Pennings founded St. Norbert College as an opportunity for young men to train for the priesthood, but the College still enjoys unique status as the sole Norbertine institution of higher education in the world.
“The environment has changed dramatically over those 109 years, yet some common elements have stayed with us,” says
Bridget O’Connor ’93 (Enrollment Management and Communications). “This is a moment in time where we are very focused on the mission of the institution, the history of the Norbertine order, and determining what that uniqueness brings to the student experience.”
A groundswell of initiatives designed to foster personal growth among students, faculty and staff continues to evolve through multiple channels within the College community. The primary focus of those efforts is to answer questions about where the College has come from, where it is today and where it hopes to be in the future.
“A lot of faith-based institutions of higher education are asking the same questions we are,” says
Julie Massey ’87 (Faith, Learning and Vocation). “For us, it’s all evolved very naturally. It’s been a lovely convergence that no one person can take credit for, and it’s all building up to something potentially really exciting.”
Education beyond an academic degree
The College experience should encompass more than merely obtaining a degree from which a student can launch their professional career, according to
Cindi Barnett (Student Life).
“Our goal is not to graduate students whose idea is getting a job and making more money than their parents made,” Barnett states. “Our goal is to graduate students who will change the world. We want more for our students—we want a lot more.”
Student Life challenges students to change themselves, change their community and change their world. It’s an opportunity not lost on
Carlee Kocon ’08, a senior majoring in English and secondary education. She recently won the $10,000 Rath Scholarship for leadership, community service and academic excellence.
“The opportunities are there, you just need to take advantage of them,” Kocon says. “Once you get started with one activity, it’s easy to get involved with a lot more. The liberal arts model is nice because we have a variety of classes to choose from and you meet different people as a result of that. It gives you entry into other organizations and groups.”
Kocon has participated in a variety of activities during her time at St. Norbert, including an internship in the Campus Ministry office; service trips to Washington, D.C., focused on homelessness and poverty; the freshman orientation team; Habitat for Humanity; and faith-sharing groups at Old St. Joseph Church. She’s studying abroad in London this semester.
“I’ve taken a lot of classes that didn’t have anything to do with my teaching degree, but they were great to take anyway,” she adds. “The average college student changes majors four or five times, and a liberal arts college makes it so you might find something you totally love. At other colleges, you might not have the credits to fall back on and you’d have to start over.”
The rise of non-traditional programs
A first step in helping students mold an expanded view of their world was introduced this fall with Communio: A Liberal Arts Seminar, a living/learning course offered initially to the 75 freshmen living together in Bergstrom Hall. Communio provides students with a common experience that emphasizes the College’s three core traditions—liberal arts, Catholic and Norbertine.
The course is designed to enhance the overall educational experience, with discussions flowing beyond the classroom. Debate and engagement are encouraged between students from all five of the 15-member sections, enabling the examination of common questions from a variety of perspectives.
“We’re behind the times in putting a program like this together,” states
Michael Marsden (Academic Affairs). “But we’ve tied three specific traditions together—Catholic, liberal arts and Norbertine—and that’s what’s unique about this program.”
The Three Ships Project is a living/learning program based in Michels Hall, in which students develop a service project that takes place over the course of the academic year. Available since 2000 to sophomores, juniors and seniors, the eight-person groups complete service projects connected to citizenship, leadership or scholarship.
“The intention of this program is to add to the complexity of the types of service opportunities available here and connect the students to a living environment,” says
Corday Goddard (Residential Life). “It broadens the idea of service beyond doing something like volunteering in a soup kitchen for a weekend. The students build a relationship with the people receiving service and with people that provide those types of services for a living.”
For volunteer hours to count toward fulfillment of the program, at least four members of the group must work that particular project together. The program has been very popular with students, although Goddard admits the lure of living in the Michels Hall suites may outweigh students’ desires to change the world. An assessment tool is being developed for this academic year to measure its overall effectiveness.
Programs such as these are designed to help students develop the skills necessary to effect change not only in themselves, but for the greater good.
“We expect students to change, and if that doesn’t happen, they’re not getting their money’s worth,” Barnett says. “The first part of that is to know who you are. The second part is to go out and change your community, and we would hope our students would have an impact on the world.”
As the number of Norbertines teaching at the College has declined, administration and staff have worked to introduce ways for the lay faculty to better understand Catholic tradition, as well as the history and dynamics of the Norbertine order. One of the most popular avenues has been the Cornerstone Seminar, a year-long study of the Catholic intellectual tradition and social teaching.
“We read through essays on the Catholic intellectual tradition that suggest it’s not just a narrow, academic understanding of the world, but a way of seeing reality, tying scholarly academic issues with social issues,” explains
Paul Wadell (Religious Studies), a seminar facilitator along with
Howard Ebert (Humanities and Fine Arts).
The seminar calls for the group to meet six times per semester to discuss and reflect on a series of readings, building a deeper knowledge of social teaching and ethics. A two-day retreat at the Norbertine Center for Spirituality at St. Norbert Abbey in De Pere concludes the session. The seminar’s objective is to help faculty members gain more knowledge about the College’s foundational values and traditions, clarifying its identity and advancing its mission.
Participants can also choose to join the European heritage trip that takes place right after graduation each year. “This is just fun,” says the
Rev. Jay Fostner, O.Praem., ’84 (Mission and Heritage).The two-week trip takes about 20 participants on a tour of Norbertine abbeys throughout Europe.
“Even as an alumnus and someone who’s worked here for 10 years, I feel I understand and appreciate who Norbert is with greater depth than ever before,” says Massey. “It makes Norbert more tangible and more real.”
Norbert of Xanten founded the order of priests that now bears his name on Christmas Eve, 1120. Along with 13 companions, he established the order’s first monastery at Premontre, France, and the group soon expanded to include abbey communities throughout Germany, France, Belgium and Transylvania. He became archbishop of Magdeburg, Saxony, in 1126, and died there in 1134.
“Some of the abbeys are 800 years old,” Fostner explains. “Some of them came under Communist regimes, and some were burned out with nuns still inside. To listen to these stories and to see the hope they have there is very spiritually inspiring.”
“It was a great experience, because for all of us, seeing the Norbertines in Europe gave us a very different perspective of them and their history,” adds Wadell. “What they’ve gone through, yet their commitment to surviving and continuing as a community was inspiring. Most of us had a very fuzzy understanding of Norbert, but going over there brought him to life.”
Taking a higher view
Leveraging grant funds received from the Lilly Endowment, the College is offering programs at a variety of levels both within the institution and in conjunction with other institutions.
A summer retreat for faculty and staff takes place in June which focuses on vocation and the College. This year’s edition included a panel of Norbertines who shared their thoughts on what it means to be a Norbertine and how that connects to the College. A second trustee retreat in October will explore the vocation of the College. It will serve as a follow-up to a 2004 retreat that explored the vocation of the trustee.
The College is also in the early planning stages of hosting a conference for other schools involved with the Lilly Endowment in which questions of institutional vocation or calling will be examined.
“When we added the Lilly grant objectives, (these questions) kept coming up in our ground-level work,” Massey says. “Vocation includes the calling of the institution, not just of individuals within the institution. We’re trying to contribute actively to that conversation.”
The newly adopted college motto, “Docere Verbo et Exemplo,” means “To Teach by Word and Example.” The phrase connects those who call today’s campus home with the first Norbertines of the 12th century.
“What this phrase stands for is the building up of community,” Fostner explains. “Every time we interact with someone, we’re teaching and learning from them, and vice versa. It calls us to be very conscious about our interactions.”
The College’s history shows clergy and laity moving toward a balance between the sacred and the secular. The ultimate litmus test in how this dynamic impacts the student body plays out over the course of generations.
As Marsden noted in a recent progress report to the faculty, “The value-added, faith-based education of a St. Norbert College student is the true narrative which can only exist as it is told and retold through the lives of those who experience it and carry it with them wherever they journey through life.”