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Engage With Heart and Soul

It’s 9 a.m. Central Standard Time as the Rev. Rowland De Peaux, O.Praem., ’48 begins a prayer service for alumni and parents hundreds of miles away from the St. Norbert College campus. “At this very moment, Father James Neilson is starting Mass at St. Norbert,” he tells them. “Let us join them in spirit.” A sense of reverence fills the room as the attendees pray the Our Father together and listen to sacred words that link them with their shared Norbertine connection.

Many alumni and parent events for St. Norbert College include a spiritual component. Some are formal events such as a Mass & Brunch. Others are casual events such as art museum tours or happy hours where Norbertine priests are popular guests. “We want to make sure our engagement opportunities are tied to the college’s mission,” explains Billy Falk ’08 (Alumni & Parent Relations). “From a prayer service that brings a little bit of Old St. Joe’s on the road, to our Family Weekend Mass, to our Golden Knights Masses for alumni of 50 years or more, we think about engaging our alums not only in academic areas but also in spiritual experiences.”

Mike Demerath ’03, who now works as an attorney in Green Bay, enjoys attending happy hour alumni events, where the relaxed atmosphere lends itself to fun conversation. “It’s a great time to get to know the new alumni and see them connect with older alumni,” he says. “I always love hearing stories from Father De Peaux and listening to what’s happening on campus. St. Norbert is part of us and goes with us wherever we go, and part of our experience with SNC is that spiritual component.”

The Rev. Jim Neilson, O.Praem., ’88 (Art) says spiritual elements create rich opportunities for wonder and awe. “When we faithfully acknowledge the presence of the divine and mysterious presence of God in our lives, it sets a tone of hospitality, gratitude and joy,” says Neilson. “I love the idea of echoes. We’re keeping the voice loud and proud in a certain sense. There is something about saying the same exact words that Abbot Pennings may have said himself to gatherings of students. If we can predicate and conclude an event with prayer that may be an echo of leaders from our faith-filled past, we may be more mindful of the holiness of one another.”

Spiritual elements, along with the Norbertine philosophy of “radical hospitality,” also set the stage for what Neilson calls “blessed surprises” such as moments he witnessed during the Golden Knights Mass for the Class of 1966. “Their spoken prayers for fellow classmates lost in the Vietnam War were so moving and heartfelt that I felt a genuine sense of holiness,” says Neilson. The Mass was “as inspiring as it was moving, and absolutely spine-tingling.”

Together in Spirit
Planning for a spiritual note at St. Norbert alumni events has set the stage for memorable moments. The Rev. Jim Neilson, O.Praem., ’88 recalls some of his favorites:
  • Of art museum tours in major cities, followed by Mass the following morning: “That which unites us, we can celebrate. We can all talk about the power of beauty.” 
  • Of a Mass & Brunch in Chicago, where the young son of a former student piped up during the Peace and asked if his dad was the smartest student Neilson had ever taught: “I couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of the Mass. You just can’t script anything more delightfully innocent and sincere than that!”
  • Of SNC Day 2016, when a number of graduates from the 1940s stopped in at Old St. Joe’s: “Some of them served Mass with Abbot Pennings, and it’s very edifying to hear stories told with such fondness and a deep sense of reverence and gratitude.” 

March 17, 2017