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Norbertine Catholic Order Celebrates the 900th Anniversary of its Founding

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From St. Norbert College, November 17, 2020
by Mike Counter, mike.counter@snc.edu, 920-362-8864

The Norbertine order is celebrating the 900th anniversary of its founding. St. Norbert of Xanten founded the Norbertine order in France in 1121. The jubilee year will be celebrated from the first Sunday of Advent, Nov. 29, 2020, through the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, on Jan. 9, 2022.

“To be rooted in such a long and rich history as Norbertines provides us with great hope as we serve and adapt to each generation,” said the Rt. Rev. Dane Radecki, abbot of St. Norbert Abbey. “God continues to call us to live in communio and to serve generously.”

Norbert of Xanten (1080-1134) was known for his ministry as an outstanding preacher and peacemaker, attracting others to follow his way of life. On Christmas Day in 1120, St. Norbert and some of his followers settled in the valley of Prémontré, near Laon, France. A year later, 30 men professed vows, committing themselves to a life of prayer and ministry in community.

In 1893, two Norbertine priests and one brother left Berne Abbey in Holland for a journey to northeastern Wisconsin. The Rev. Bernard Pennings, O.Praem., led the group to take up pastoral work to the immigrants from Belgium, Holland and France who had settled in Wisconsin’s peninsula. In 1894, the little group was augmented by two additional Dutch Norbertines, allowing Pennings to accept a parish in De Pere, where St. Norbert College would be developed, and founding what would become St. Norbert Abbey.

The De Pere Norbertines continued to serve the church in northeastern Wisconsin in education, parishes, broadcasting (WBAY-TV) and its Center for Norbertine Spirituality. In the mid-1960s, a group of De Pere Norbertines also began to serve the poor in Lima, Peru.

Now, 900 years later, the vision of St. Norbert continues through Norbertine communities across the world. The Norbertines dedicate themselves to prayer, sharing a common life and serving local needs.

Two houses originally founded by St. Norbert Abbey also have become independent canonries. Our Lady of Daylesford Abbey in Paoli, Pennsylvania, was recognized as a daughter abbey of St. Norbert Abbey in 1963. Additionally, Santa María de la Vid Abbey in Albuquerque, New Mexico became the second independent daughter canonry of St. Norbert Abbey in 2012. There are two additional canonries in the United States, including Immaculate Conception Priory in Wilmington, Delaware and St. Michael’s Abbey in Orange County, California.

In October 1898, St. Norbert College was founded as Pennings started educating young men for the priesthood before opening a commerce program for lay students. Nestled beside the Fox River in De Pere, Wisconsin, neighboring Green Bay, St. Norbert College is a four-year, Catholic liberal arts institution and the only Norbertine college in the world.

After World War II, enrollments at the college increased dramatically, and in 1952 it became coeducational. Pennings continued in his leadership role until he retired in 1955. Today the residential campus serves approximately 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students, hailing from throughout the United States and across the world. Pennings’ basic philosophy of education, “to perfect the personal, moral and intellectual development of each student,” remains unchanged.

“St. Norbert College has a compelling story to tell,” said President Brian Bruess. “Rooted in our three pillars of Norbertine, Catholic and liberal arts, the college has never been stronger. We are thriving because, for the past 122 years, St. Norbert College has remained steadfast and true to its mission of embracing Abbot Penning’s founding vision and Norbertine ideals. Our graduates, working for the betterment of society around the globe, are morally and intellectually prepared for every good work, living out the Norbertine value of communio: united as one.”

Recent years have seen record enrollments and unprecedented investments in the St. Norbert College campus. The academic excellence of the college is nationally recognized by U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, Princeton Review and others (www.snc.edu/about/). St. Norbert College also is host to the 13-time NFL champion Green Bay Packers training camp each year.

For more on the Norbertines, St. Norbert College has a crown jewel in the Center for Norbertine Studies. Go to https://www.snc.edu/cns/.

Additionally, St. Norbert College President Emeritus Thomas Kunkel, a prolific writer, penned a book on St. Norbert, the man. Go to https://www.snc.edu/cns/norbertofxanten/manonfire/.

To learn more about St. Norbert Abbey and the Norbertine order, visit http://www.norbertines.org.

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