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Common Prayer
May 2, 2007
Reflection by Dick Rankin, vice president for student life

When I was a student in the 60s, there were a significant number of Norbertines, well educated from the best doctoral programs, living in the residence halls, advising student organizations, and most important, being a presence with students 24/7.

Students were blessed to have Norbertines who truly “served the human family,” the family which was their college.

Those Norbertines were “giants” in terms of educators—Father Butler (English); Father Colavechio (Theology); Father De Leers, academic dean; Father Burke, president; Father Brooks (Social Studies); Father Keefe (Botany); and the list goes on and on.

The point I wish to make is that the vocation of these Norbertines was to teach students in the broadest sense of the word. Theirs was a holistic approach to personal growth.

When one talks with grads of those eras, they talk with equal sincerity about how the priests educated them in the classroom and educated them in their daily lives.

Those priests were change agents for students’ growth and development. And what the priests did served as an example to the lay employees—all, priests and lay equally, reached out to help students grow, to help students learn.

Those days, there wasn’t an extensive Student Life program—in fact, typical services offered were minimal. Times were different, much less complex than today, but there were Norbertines filling the roles of today’s lay professionals.

Lots of Norbertines in those days developed within the college what they developed within their Abbey—a fraternal community with education as the focus.

Through the presence of those priests, through their extensive involvement with students, they built what we truly treasure—our sense of community, an educational atmosphere within which all of us are strongly encouraged to develop our personal qualities.

When one looks at Luke’s reading today (Luke 6:25), and I expand the principle statement of Luke just a bit, “a good person out of the store of goodness in his/her heart produces good.”

I attribute to the Norbertines of yesterday their establishing a holistic educational climate within which students developed their personal qualities. They brought out the goodness in the students.

The community of growth today was purposely developed by yesterday’s Norbertines. They did this, as I both witnessed and received, through their trust of others, through their valuing of others, through being the strength for students growing during their college years.

Those Norbertines worked hard to establish an educational environment within which each person would enhance himself/herself with their support. Their presence told the students they were important, they were valued.

The tradition of community at St. Norbert flows from the work of yesterday’s Norbertines. They developed the atmosphere within which we work, play, learn and share.

From the reading that Cindi (associate dean of student life Cindi Barnett) shared, by Teresa of Avila, I liberally substitute the Norbertines of yesterday as the Christ I experienced. I saw them functioning like Christ because they believed that people must trust each other.

Each person is to be valued, to be important, each is a contributor. Traditions are important, too—as such, I think we are today’s Norbertines. In our role with students we do function as their support. Students are in transition and they need role models, who are us. Many students are searching—you and I are the light they seek.

Christ indeed fills each of us—but my tendency is to look at everyday people, things. I have trouble identifying myself with Christ but, for me, the early Norbertines filled the role of the hands, feet and body of Christ, through their actions and presence as role models for the students.

For myself and my student peers, those Norbertines served as fathers, brothers and advisors in their role as priests and educators.

Today’s challenge is that the Norbertines I enjoyed the presence of years ago are gone, in terms of their numbers. But I feel they left us with the tradition of a learning community that emphasizes personal growth.

You and I today, others tomorrow, are the caretakers of their community tradition. We must find the good in each person and work with the person to bring the good out because a good community, which is what we are, does not produce, does not educate unworthy students.

In reality, we have a campus climate that does not always embody the legacy of community established yesterday because we sometimes fail to trust, fail to be compassionate, fail to be patient with each other.

Yes, in times of tragedy, this institution is unparalleled in clearly demonstrating our compassion. But, day to day, what kind of a Norbertine role model are you, am I?

If Father Keefe, Father Brooks, and Father Burke returned, would they be proud of how we lay folks are enhancing the learning community legacy they left to us?

Would they look at our graduates on May 13 and truly say, my college developed Bill, Betty, Joe, Sally to their fullest?

For the Norbertines of yesterday, the student was their sole focus. This must be maintained today—the student is the only reason St. Norbert College was established, still exists.

I think, because I have seen over 29 years, that the Norbertines of yesterday would be proud of how we educate, how we develop students. But they, as I do, would offer words of advice, maybe warning, that our community, Norbertine-style, is fragile.

It took many Norbertines to establish our community and it is contingent on the many lay employees today to maintain our community. I ask each of us to think about what we are doing to enhance the quality of our learning community, to help students grow.

Do we treat others with respect, are we as compassionate every day as we can be, do we try to provide an atmosphere in our offices, classrooms, on the serving line, our halls, within which students feel comfortable, feel valued enough to grow, to develop, to take risks to enhance themselves?

Each of us, each employee, each student, is required for this effort, I feel, because we all joined this Norbertine living/learning environment to enhance the very community yesterday’s Norbertines left as their legacy.

You, I, and those who follow, all have the ability to contribute. No person is too high or low in our hierarchy. All are important.

Let us pray that we see/feel the value in our community legacy. The students of tomorrow deserve the people of their college to be the strength they deserve on their holistic collegiate journey.

The strength folks receive from a vibrant, caring, engaged community is the legacy of yesterday’s Norbertines. And it must be carried forward for many more generations. That is the Norbertine expectation. 

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