|William Hyland, director of the Center for Norbertine Studies, holding a new acquisition – a copy of the Rule of Augustine.
Home to a living history
By Tony Staley
The Center for Norbertine Studies serves as a repository for the order’s heritage and an international resource for scholars of religious life
Despite being nearly 900 years old, for most of the order’s existence there’s been no single place to study the Norbertines’ history and spirituality. That started to change in 2006 with the creation of the Center for Norbertine Studies.
The center took the next step in its evolution to an international facility with its move from the Todd Wehr Library to the new Mulva Library, says William Hyland, director.
“There is no such thing anywhere,” Hyland says. “We think it’s a very important role we can play both for the United States and internationally.To do this in the context of a liberal arts college shows that it’s a living heritage. It’s an ancient heritage, but it’s very much alive.”
The Rev. Andrew Ciferni, O.Praem., ’64, a member of the college’s board of trustees, sees the center and its central place in the new library as both expressing and fostering the college’s renewed sense of its Catholic and Norbertine mission.
“There is no other place in the world devoted exclusively to Norbertine studies. There is one for the Cistercians-Trappists at Western Michigan University; one for the Carthusians in Germany; and many Franciscan centers throughout the world. No history of religious life, especially in the Middle Ages, can ignore the role of the Norbertines,” Ciferni says.
Carol Neel, professor of history at Colorado College, agrees. “The Norbertines were an important and distinctive voice in the 12th century; their model for apostolic life, as well as their beautiful literature, deserves far more attention by modern scholars than it has yet received,” Neel says.
While the Norbertines are a relatively small order – 1,000 members worldwide compared to 18,000 Jesuits – they were one of the largest medieval orders and their libraries were important centers into the 18th century, Hyland says. Like most orders they were almost completely devastated by the successive onslaughts of the Reformation, French Revolution and Napoleon, but then experienced a revival in the 19th century.
The center both focuses attention on the order’s history and on how the Norbertines can inspire today’s world, says Neel, who visited the center in its old location in spring 2008 to celebrate the publication of “Norbert and Early Norbertine Spirituality,” which she co-edited with the Rev. Ted Antry, O.Praem., ’62 of Daylesford Abbey.
That was an example of what the center provides: an opportunity for scholars to meet, share ideas and plan new projects on the Norbertine tradition, Neel says.
“Recently, a number of publications have brought the legacy of the medieval Norbertines more readily into the hands of people of our times,” Neel says. “The center will encourage many more such efforts, building connections and fueling discussion, so that the next generation will come fully to appreciate the contribution of the white canons to not only a medieval past but to the spiritual and charitable life of Christianity since St. Norbert.”
Hyland says the center is sparking faculty interest, citing projects on the Norbertines’ role in 20th century Catholicism, biblical scholarship and pastoral work with Hispanics.
“One of the great things about the Norbertines is that they don’t do just one thing.That’s true now, but it’s also true that over their whole history there are Norbertines who have been involved in almost every aspect of church life.There’s a lot there to interest a lot of different people,” Hyland says.
“It gives people a place to go to learn about the history of the school and the order,” says Lindsay Koeppel ’09, who last year was a center intern. “There’s so much there to learn, so it’s a great opportunity for St. Norbert students.”
Visitors to the center, on the second floor in the northwest corner of the library, enter a large reading and conference room adjacent to a reception area and the offices of Hyland and Catherine Kasten, program coordinator.
The large room is home to Norbertine-related books, art and a stained glass window. The center’s collection also includes microfilm, microfiche and rare books dating back to the 16th century. Hyland plans to add sculpture and digitized works. Coming soon on long-term loan from St. Norbert Abbey are rare books on the order’s history.
Recently, Strahov Abbey in Prague gave the center several books, including catalogs of their medieval manuscripts, Hyland says. He anticipates more gifts as other abbeys become familiar with the center – particularly after the order’s general chapter meets in De Pere in 2012.
“We’re looking, of course, for older things, but contemporary things as well – anything that pertains to the history and spirituality of the order and the wider family of Augustinian canons,” Hyland says. “My ultimate goal would be for us to become the center for the study of all canons regular.”
The center is also home to the Klimon Collection of editions of the “Confessions” by St. Augustine, the fifth century bishop and doctor of the church whose rule for religious life St. Norbert adopted in 1121, after he founded the order.
The collection, which is kept in the library’s state-of-the-art special collections and rare books room, includes more than 75 volumes in several languages, dating from the 16th to 21st centuries.
Hyland, who grew up on Staten Island, N.Y., had never met a Norbertine until coming to St. Norbert College in 1999, where he taught Latin part-time after his wife, Sabine Hyland (Anthropology), was hired.
However, Hyland knew the order well through his doctoral dissertation on John-Jerome of Prague, O.Praem. (1370-1440), a missionary to Lithuania, chaplain and confessor to the Polish king, and a key player in church councils and reform.
The center stands at the intersection between his own academic and historical interests and the college’s focus on its Norbertine mission and heritage, says Hyland, who has added courses on Norbert and the early Norbertines, Augustine, and early Christian monasticism. He also gives and sponsors on-campus talks and programs about the Norbertine heritage.
“You can’t just expect the heritage to take care of itself,” Hyland says. “You have to make an effort to take care of it. It’s important to the world of scholarship, certainly, but it’s also very important to our campus life today. It’s a way of showing how this very rich history and spirituality links us to a much wider and deeper tradition that tells us who we are, where we’ve come from and maybe gives us some spiritual tools to shape where we’re going.”
The heart of a collector
|The ability to study a text like the “Confessions” in editions published at different times and in different languages gives scholars new insights into this important work, the earliest extant autobiographical text.
Ten years ago William Klimon bought a 1788 first American edition autobiography by the first American Protestant clergyman to convert to Catholicism.
That book, “An Account of the Conversion of the Reverend Mr. John Thayer,” led to a conversion experience of sorts for Klimon, when he realized it was possible to buy early editions of important books.
“Indeed, even in the digital era, sometimes that is still the only way to get an interesting text,” says Klimon, a Washington D.C., attorney.
He has since bought several dozen 18th and 19th century editions of the book, making it the largest Thayer collection in private hands, Klimon says.
Klimon also collects other 16th to 21st century Catholic convertiana, including testimonials, autobiographies, memoirs, correspondence, journals, apologetics and polemics in English, French, German, Spanish, Latin, Norwegian, Swedish, Hebrew, Dutch and Italian. “I have some truly rare 17th century works by former Calvinists like the Flemish physician Olivier van Hattem, the French aristocrat Jacques Benjamin, and the Swiss-Italian writer Andrea Cardoini, which in each case may be the only copy in the United States.” Klimon says.
He collected more than 75 editions of the “Confessions” by history’s most famous convert, St. Augustine, and in 2006 he donated them to the Center for Norbertine Studies. “Confessions” in the Klimon Collection range from a late 16th century edition in Latin to an early 21st century English translation by Garry Wills. In between are editions in Latin, English, French, German and Italian.
Klimon made the donation after realizing that he preferred collecting general convertiana, and taking his collection to the next level would take all his collecting resources.
“At that same moment, my friend and classmate from graduate school in the history department at Cornell, Bill Hyland, was made director of the Center for Norbertine Studies. He indicated great interest in acquiring the ‘Confessions’ collection for the center,” Klimon says.
Other possibilities were tempting, including the Augustine collection at Villanova, says Klimon, who wanted scholars to have access. “But the connections between St. Augustine and St. Norbert were obvious to me, and I felt that my collection would be in very good hands in De Pere and would be welcomed into a context of renewed scholarly interest in the Norbertine and Augustinian traditions – not to mention a beautiful new library then on the drawing board.”
Klimon says collectors often seek multiple copies of a single title to understand how a book was made available in different times and places; what editors or readers thought of it; how widespread interest was, as evidenced by translations; and the history of the book trade.
Then there was what Klimon calls less high-minded reasons – the book’s monetary value and bragging rights for a unique collection of rare books.
Klimon finds books through e-Bay, estate sales, book stores, dealer catalogues, book fairs, thrift stores and online dealers.
“I take a fairly academic approach to collecting – an intellectual pursuit with intellectual rewards,” Klimon says. “But I would be lying if I denied that there is a thrill to the hunt, as well. There is definitely a ‘Treasure Island’ aspect to collecting, trying to find that hidden or lost jewel that has eluded everyone else.”
Look here for web-only content that expands on topics presented in the current St. Norbert College Magazine (PDF).
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From start to finish
The Mulva Library, now open, takes shape before your eyes in this time-lapse sequence of images.
Your ideas for future magazine stories are most welcome. Write to the editor with any suggestions or comments.
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