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Former St. Norbert College President, Thomas Kunkel Publishes New Book on St. Norbert, The Man

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From St. Norbert College, April 23, 2019
by Mike Counter,, 920-403-3089

When Thomas Kunkel retired as president of St. Norbert College in 2017, he mentioned how he wanted to write an easy-to-read biography on the life of Norbert of Xanten. Fast-forward a couple of years and “Man of Fire: The Life and Spirit of Norbert of Xanten” has been completed and will be available on or from after May 8.

“I had only been president of St. Norbert College for a few years when I began to realize that there was a real need for a straightforward, accessible telling of Norbert’s story,” said President Emeritus Thomas Kunkel. “I certainly felt that way myself, and I knew that many of our students, faculty and staff probably felt the same. I just feel very fortunate that I was able to actually do this.”

More about the book:

Norbert of Xanten lived in the late 11th and early 12th centuries, and he was an early and headstrong Church reformer. He was also a nobleman, a courtier, a priest, an ascetic, an itinerant preacher, an archbishop, a defender of papal authority and of the sacrament of the Eucharist, a legendary peacemaker and an exemplar of the apostolic way of life. In addition, in the remote woods of northeast France, Norbert would found one of the great clerical orders of the Church – one that has endured, despite wars, plagues, famines, the Protestant Reformation, Napoleonic suppression, Nazism, fascism, communism and Church politics, through nine long centuries to our present time.

Put another way, Norbert led one of the most remarkable lives of saints before or since.

Still, few American Catholics know St. Norbert or the order he established in Prémontré – an order of canons regular still active and relevant 900 years later. This lack of familiarity owes primarily to the fact that for most of their history the Norbertines operated almost exclusively in Europe and have had a much smaller footprint in North America than their Jesuit, Benedictine, Franciscan or Dominican counterparts. Beyond that, most of what has been written about Norbert over the years has come from Europe, in languages infrequently rendered into English. And even when they were, his story was seldom told in a contemporary style. This concise biography remedies that in a very readable and moving way.

About the author:

Thomas Kunkel is an author, journalist, educator and president emeritus of St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin. Kunkel earned his B.A. in political science at the University of Evansville in 1977 and his master's degree in humanities from there in 1979. He spent much of his early career in the newspaper industry, and from 1997 to 2000 he served as editor and director of the Project on the State of the American Newspaper. From 2000 to 2008 Kunkel was dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism and president of the American Journalism Review at the University of Maryland. He took the helm of St. Norbert College in 2008, leading the Catholic, Norbertine liberal arts college until his retirement in 2017.

Kunkel has authored or edited seven books, including “Enormous Prayers: A Journey into the Priesthood” (1998) and “Genius in Disguise: Harold Ross of The New Yorker” (1995). His last book, “Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker,” was published in 2015.

About the illustrator:

Martin Erspamer, O.S.B., is a monk of St. Meinrad Archabbey in southern Indiana. He is a well-known liturgical artist and liturgical consultant. Erspamer works in a wide range of media, including pottery, stained glass and wood, and is nationally known for his illustration of sacred themes. His many commissions include the Liturgical Press edition of The Roman Missal.

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