In My Words/Mission Radiance When It Counts

What a year 2020 was: Twelve months marked by the unthinkable confluence of a global pandemic, national calls for racial justice, a historic presidential election and more. Here at St. Norbert College, grounded in our mission, we were able to gracefully and successfully face, one after another, each of these and other daunting challenges. And while the complex macro disruptions in our nation and world resulted in tremendous loss for so many – the results of societal and personal tensions, political polarization, human suffering and deaths – we remained hopeful for a better 2021. And now, here we are. I ask you to join me in asking God to grant us and every human a year ahead overflowing with abundance, peace, light and health.

As I reflect on the whole of 2020, as we experienced it here at the micro level at St. Norbert College, two themes emerge: each of them core values that served as light to guide the way. One of these was unwavering hope; the other was relentless gratitude. At the center of our hope and gratitude was our mission – the actualizing of our longest and most closely held SNC values. In the hours and months of our greatest need, we did what our founder, the Rev. Bernard Pennings, O.Praem., would have done: We returned to our roots. We leaned even more mindfully into our foundation, the 900-year-old tradition gifted to us in 1898 by the Norbertines and Abbot Pennings: our mission – the core that always has and always will guide everything we do as a Catholic, Norbertine and liberal arts college.

Our COVID-19 response plan was based on our commitment to deliver our mission by safely offering a holistic education to our students – nurturing and caring for mind, body, spirit – during a global pandemic. We believed so strongly in this moral responsibility that we re-engineered the entire student experience to be COVID-safe, yet still vibrant and engaging. We ensured our classrooms were physically distanced; we lowered the density of our residence halls; we even rebuilt our nationally recognized food service program which, no surprise to anyone who has enjoyed it, still ranks No. 4 in the nation and No. 1 in Wisconsin!

Our faculty rose to the occasion and spent their entire summer – when most are fully immersed in producing their scholarship – creating their courses in the “HyFlex” model: preparing to deliver their excellent instruction in person, while ready to move to hybrid teaching (part face-to-face/part virtual) or to fully online if circumstances required. Our campus community watched in awe as each faculty member adapted time and again, week after week of fall semester, delivering on our SNC promise of giving every student a profound and impactful educational experience.

Our grounds crew and housekeeping staffs kept a steady hand, ensuring our campus remained beautiful and safe. Our maintenance staff found innovative ways to keep the operations of the campus running smoothly and safely. Staff in every corner of campus leaned into our mission and revealed remarkable grit, perseverance and innovation as together we confronted – with a sterling Green Knight spirit – the worst pandemic in more than 100 years.

Our response was mission personified. Students, too, showed what it means to sacrifice, to act for the common good, to respect the dignity of others, and to live in communio: the ideal of a community united as one, grounded in the Christian understanding of God as Trinity. We have demonstrated communio by our individual and collective behavior and by showing mutual esteem, trust, sincerity, faith and responsibility in the face of enormous and sustained uncertainty and difficulty.

As we approached the most polarizing presidential election in modern times, the SNC community once again modeled for the world what mission radiance looks like on the ground, in our actions. In countless ways, during a year of what felt like endless challenges and hurdles, our St. Norbert College community once again became a model for higher education and the world. And while 2021 is now underway, I want to say congratulations, Green Knight nation, on navigating the historic year 2020 – a year none of us will soon forget – and doing so by keeping our shared faith front and center, and never wavering on what matters most: deep care for one other.



Jan. 15, 2021