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New Role for Artist Priest as Leadership Transitions at College Parish


New leadership at the St. Norbert College Parish comes with the departure of the Rev. John Tourangeau, O.Praem., ’81, pastor since 2012.

The Rev. Jim Neilson, O.Praem., ’88 is to serve as administrator of the parish, with the Rev. Andrew Ciferni, O.Praem.,’64 serving as parochial vicar.

It’s a new role for Neilson, who says, “I feel like I’ve been asked to be a guardian of rites and rituals that have been celebrated for centuries. I also feel like a curator or protector of certain books and objects and symbols … and, most importantly, I feel like I’ve been invited to participate in a collective endeavor toward recognizing the real presence of Christ within and among the SNC community.

“Up unto this point (in my professional life), I’ve focused on a career in the classroom and the studio. This new environment is strikingly different but curiously familiar, too. I sense many wonderful parallels and exciting similarities.”

Neilson, who will continue to teach in the art discipline, defines his new role as helping to orchestrate the pastoral leadership of the parish, “an artful collaboration with others” – including the parish council, the college and the Norbertine order – in the spirit of Vatican II.

When a pastor moves on, it is usual for an administrator to be appointed; perhaps, in time, to assume the pastorate himself. Parochial vicars are assigned to assist in the care of the faithful.

Neilson’s intent is to cooperate with the entire St. Norbert community in fostering an environment that aims toward “a genuinely ‘catholic’ (as in ‘wide embrace’) ethos.” He looks forward to celebrating Roman Catholic faith and culture, particularly liturgical culture, upon a site that has for centuries been holy ground for generations of believers:

“I know I’ll be the fortunate recipient of much wisdom, knowledge and insight from those who enter the doors of Old St. Joe’s and that, having been blessed by those who join us here, I’m certain my outlook and experience of daily living will be magnified and enriched.”

He hopes to continue the long tradition of maintaining and cultivating a genuinely sacred space on campus, “a sanctuary for the soul wherein peace and quiet, natural light and candle-glow, the fragrance of incense and real music (played on real instruments) can enhance ancient prayers and wisdom literature as we actively engage in the challenges and complexities of daily life.” 

He adds, “I’m also hopeful that the new Mass schedule might engage and accommodate the busy lives of our students. We’ll be celebrating [evening] Mass at 10 p.m. on Sundays (walking to Mass under the stars just seems too wonderful to ignore) and the [weekday] morning Mass will be at 6:30 a.m. – and here’s why: After 30 years of observing the college campus in the early morning hours, I’m always struck by the number of students who are up and about: athletes are training, ROTC cadets are running drills and student teachers are carpooling en route to their classrooms. If someone really wishes to excel in a meaningful vocation and lifestyle, he or she clearly isn’t afraid to get up early to do so, and perhaps morning Mass can become a way to begin the day with a sense of faithful purpose and gratitude.”

By any other name
Neilson is rightly Father Jim but he is just as willing to answer to Father Seamus. He explains that upon arriving at St. Norbert Abbey 31 years ago, and finding himself in the company of seven other men with the same first name (“a veritable Jacobean Society!”), he opted to distinguish himself by celebrating his Tipperary roots and using the Irish version of James – Seamus. “I like this name … a LOT!,” he says.


July 7, 2015