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New Mexico community attains priory status
By Melanie Radzicki McManus ’83

More than 400 years after the Roman Catholic faith was brought to New Mexico, the newest canonry in the Norbertine order draws on ancient traditions in its life of community, contemplation and compassionate service with the people of God in the southwestern United States.

When five Norbertine priests headed south to establish a new foundation, they found difficult times awaiting their fledgling community. Within three years, two of their number – neither very old – had died. “We had a very difficult beginning,” recalls the Rev. Joel Garner, O.Praem.,’62. “We were wondering, ‘What does God have planned?’”

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A photo gallery showcases the beauty of Santa Maria de la Vid. >>MORE
They got their answer last December, 26 years after they left De Pere, when the Norbertine Community of New Mexico celebrated its elevation to an independent Norbertine canonry. “It’s a classic example of how God’s ways are not our ways,” chuckles Garner, superior of the community. “This happened a little later than we’d planned, but it’s still timely.”

When the priests originally traveled to the southwest in 1985, they were charged by the De Pere abbey with establishing a foundation in an area with a growing Spanish-speaking population. Checking out sites in several states, they eventually were welcomed by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. The archdiocese was looking for assistance with hospital ministry, and in serving Hispanic and Native American parishes. Since Norbertine tradition requires priests to try and meet the needs of the local church, rather than be locked into a particular type of work, the men enthusiastically dug right in.

New Mexico parish

But while the Norbertines are dedicated to serving the local church, their primary charism, or call, is to live and pray as brothers in community. So the men eventually purchased a former Dominican retreat facility, set on a 70-acre parcel of land in the region’s South Valley, and converted it to their new home – Santa Maria de la Vid, or Our Lady of the Vine. They also limited their assignments within the vast archdiocese to ministries close to home.

Today, their accomplishments are impressive. The community is now composed of nine priests, one solemnly professed brother and four men in formation. And Santa Maria de la Vid contains a church, private residence for the men, retreat facilities and the Norbertine Library (also a spiritual learning center) that’s open to the public. On top of that, the St. Norbert College Master of Theological Studies program is offered here – especially significant, as there are no Catholic colleges in all of New Mexico, and no graduate schools offering theological studies within a 600-mile radius. “So even though we’re not strictly involved in education, as many Norbertines happen to be, we did bring that dimension of education here with us,” Garner says.

The master’s program also serves as a tie to the canonry’s past. “The abbey has been very generous to us in terms of supporting us with personnel and finances,” says Garner. “We’re a daughter of the St. Norbert Abbey, if you will. So we still have warm relationships with them, and we’ll always have ties.”

What’s next? The newly independent Norbertines are focusing on the continued growth of their community, and hope to one day attain abbey status. “Not every group of Norbertines has the opportunity to root our almost 900-year tradition of religious life in a new place,” says Garner. “Even though the elders among us are approaching retirement, there’s an enthusiasm about doing this, and a gratitude for the gift of being able to give our tradition a fresh face and a new place.”

Santa Maria de la Vid is the second daughter house of St. Norbert Abbey in De Pere. Daylesford Priory, in Philadelphia, became independent in 1963.

March 22, 2012

Spring 2012 magazine

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Look here for web-exclusive content that expands on topics presented in the current issue
of St. Norbert College Magazine.

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Story ideas? Your ideas for future magazine stories are most welcome. Write to the editor with any suggestions or comments.

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