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Old St. Joe’s Sits High on List of Best Campus Churches

Old St. Joe’s is ranked at No. 18 on a new list of America’s best college chapels and churches. The list, published by theologydegrees.org, captures the 50 most historically significant and aesthetically pleasing worship sites on college and university campuses in the United States. 

The church at the heart of the St. Norbert campus sits among prestigious company in the 50 Most Amazing College Chapels and Churches listing: In fact, it ranks higher than celebrated places of worship that themselves feature innovative and stunning architecture – places such as the Cadet Chapel at the United States Air Force Academy and Duke Chapel at Duke University. Old St. Joe’s also beat out churches at other big-name schools, including Michigan State, Cornell, Seton Hall, Yale and Stanford Universities.

A history dating back more than 300 years
As the oldest building on the St. Norbert campus, the history of Old St. Joseph Church is inseparable from that of the community and people of the De Pere area. The church is built on the foundation of a small chapel erected in 1676, which stood for nearly 200 years. In 1870, the current parish was established to serve French-Canadian settlers working in the area. In 1889, the original building was destroyed after being struck by lightning, and a new church was dedicated in September 1890.

Old St. Joe’s was designated as the home of the National Shrine of St. Joseph in 1892. (The shrine has been under the care of the Norbertine order since 1898, the year the De Pere priory was established on campus. It was moved to its current location in the crypt of the new St. Norbert Abbey after that building was completed in 1959.)

After Vatican II, the church building was completely renovated and decorated in a contemporary style, replacing the ornate interior of 1898. A second, extensive renovation undertaken in 1998, added an atrium gathering area, lounge oratory chapel and other facilities. This work, which revealed the original masonry and beams, was recognized with two national awards for architectural design.

Ever since the arrival of the Rev. Bernard Pennings, O.Praem., in 1898, Old St. Joe’s has been under the pastoral care of a Norbertine priest. This means that, since the founding of St. Norbert College, Old St. Joe’s has stood at the heart of its campus, a focus for worship and spiritual growth.


April 7, 2015