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In My Words/A Resounding Sense of Hope

A most stunning red cardinal perched on a limb just outside my window as I sat to write this letter. Some assert the cardinal is an earthly symbol of a heavenly messenger, delivering inspiration and encouragement from a loved one who is now in God’s heavenly kingdom. Carol and I agree. With each visit from our feathered friends, our hope is renewed and our shared knowledge that we are never alone on this blessed journey is made present.

As we approach the joyous occasion of the Norbertine 900th Jubilee, I find myself filled with gratitude as well as hope. Gratitude for all of you who have contributed to the success St. Norbert College has experienced, and for the tremendous and enduring impact our collective work has had on so many generations of graduates.

St. Norbert College has, indeed, demonstrated a generative sense of community these past few years. We as a community are proud of what has been accomplished. And as we look to the future, our collective hope inspires our vision for yet more robust outcomes, even as we continue to navigate the ever-intensifying headwinds facing American higher education and the merciless global pandemic. Each of these challenges has elicited our better angels and convened our strongest expression of community.

I’m frequently asked: How has St. Norbert College been able to produce such impressive outcomes during a global pandemic, when so many other colleges are struggling? The answer: It’s what feeds our community – a resounding sense of hope.

What is this brand of hope about which I speak?

It’s of a kind best illuminated by Dr. Paul Wadell in his 2016 article for America magazine, “Hope: The Forgotten Virtue of Our Time.” Paul writes, “Hope is not a fleeting emotion, much less an attitude that fades when life is hard, but a resilient stance toward life marked by trust, confidence and perseverance.”

How did we trust? We believed in our students, who collectively demonstrated a deep desire to convene in person and remain together, as a community. Our students made tireless sacrifices for themselves and each other, and continue to do so today. We believed in our faculty and staff, who showed creativity and revealed their innovative spirit as they adapted and found effective pandemic-proof ways to teach, coach, support, mentor, care for, collaborate with and advise students. Students, faculty, staff and our board of trustees – heirs of Norbert of Xanten who trusted in God’s radical call – showed faith in each other and our mission.

How did we show confidence? Demonstrating confidence during a sustained crisis is not only hard, it’s complicated. We showed what some would say was foolish confidence as we launched a strategic planning effort in spring 2021, smack dab in the middle of a pandemic. It wasn’t enough to ask questions about making it through the academic year. We knew we simultaneously needed to stay focused on the horizon, actively planning for and pursuing the future. We actively sought the wisdom of our community. Like Hugh of Fosse, who in the 12th century had the confidence and skill to shape an international order from Norbert’s charismatic vision, we are forging a future marked by more, bountiful, uncommon success.

How do we show perseverance? Our entire community, led by the admissions counselors and enrollment team, financial aid staff, coaches, and countless faculty and staff across areas, made possible the recruitment of one of our most exceptional classes in the history of the college. We not only persevered, we are already implementing and innovating across our strategic plan pillars: educational quality, financial and operational excellence and mission radiance. We are leading like the college’s immigrant founder, Abbot Bernard Pennings, whose steadfast leadership through our first 50-plus years was never stagnant.

As we look back and look ahead, I want to say thank you. Thank you for being on the journey with this great college – one saturated with hope. Thank you for all you have done and will do to support our beloved St. Norbert College – making possible its continued flourishing. Never underestimate how your hope and faith in our beloved SNC continues to inspire ours – all of it a gift in the name of our great Creator. In the ever-wise words of Dr. Wadell: “Christian hope must be understood as both a gift and a calling.”

Nov. 5, 2021