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Frater Jordan S. Neeck, O.Praem., ’11 (center) with Deacon Brad Vanden Branden, O.Praem., ’09 (left) and Frater Jacob Sircy, O.Praem., ’09.

Calling a New Generation

The Rev. Matthew Dougherty, O.Praem., ’09 was ordained to the priesthood on June 6 of last year. The ordination of Deacon Brad Vanden Branden, O.Praem., ’09 followed in August, and there are more to come. A group of young men – many among them St. Norbert alumni – have answered the call to serve, providing an influx of vocations at St. Norbert Abbey, and its independent daughter abbeys in Pennsylvania and New Mexico. 

“With age comes wisdom, but with youth there is vigor and idealism and zeal,” says Dougherty, who is currently finishing up his theology studies and assisting with vocations at St. Norbert College. “I think new vocations present religious life with a balance. The wiser guys help keep the younger guys’ feet on the ground, while the younger guys allow for a greater vitality and a freshness of perspective.”

Frater Jordan Neeck, O.Praem., ’11 describes the growth in vocations as “a testament that religious life is not dead, that young people are still attracted to a way of life which has been around for almost 900 years. It is a testament to the fact that young people are hungry and searching for a deeper meaning to life.” 

Frater Zaccary Haney, O.Praem., ’13 is a member of Santa Maria de la Vid Abbey, along with Frater Stephen Gaertner, O.Praem., ’98. Haney says, “In Albuquerque, we are a small community, one that is excited about growing in the future, but also very attentive to the present. Right now we run a very vibrant young-adult ministry from our vocations office. It is exciting to have young people around my age engaged in the life of the abbey. It is life-giving for me and I hope it is for them as well.”

What drew these young men to religious life?

“I was impressed by the humble service and dedication to ministry that I witnessed in the lives of the Norbertines involved in both the campus and a variety of other ministries,” says Frater Mike Brennan, O.Praem., ’99.

“Growing up, my home parish was staffed by Norbertines,” explains Vanden Branden. “I remember being impressed that there were many different Norbertines who came and ministered to the parish despite there being an assigned pastor. The diversity of priests really demonstrated that the Norbertines are a community of men who live and minister together.”

Frater Patrick LaPacz, O.Praem., ’09 says that living in community drew him to religious life. Frater Jacob Sircy, O.Praem., ’09 agrees: “When I was younger, I felt a call to serve in the church. As I got older, I felt that call became more defined in the call to be ordained. It was either diocese or religious life. I knew that I would be healthier if I had community/family around me, so I chose the path of religious life.”

In ministry
Norbertines in formation pursue programs of study, but also have the opportunity to serve when they return to their home abbeys. Vanden Branden is ministering as a deacon at St. Ann Parish in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Sircy assists with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program at a parish in Chicago.

Brennan has been doing nursing home and hospital ministry in Chicago. When back in Wisconsin, he serves at St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter and Notre Dame Academy in Green Bay.

LaPacz is in Ministry Practicum at Franciscan St. Margaret Health in Hammond, Ind. He serves in the spiritual care department for eight hours a week.

Neeck spent his second year of novitiate at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish and School, De Pere, and at Green Bay Correctional Institution.

Haney serves as caretaker of the Santa Maria de la Vid Abbey church, assisting with preparation for liturgies. He also expects to be placed in a modest part-time RCIA ministry at one of the New Mexico parishes, as well as in liturgical ministries at the abbey’s other parishes.

March 14, 2016