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In 1676, Fr. Charles Albanel built a small chapel here on what is now the campus of St. Norbert College. This chapel was the first church on the property, and it remained until 1870 when St. Joseph parish church was erected on this same spot. 

In 1889, lightning hit the church. The building was ruined and only the wooden a statue of St. Joseph survived (presently located at St. Norbert Abbey).  A year later, a new church was constructed; this is the building that remains today.

The ninth pastor, Fr. Joseph Durin, had a great love for St. Joseph.  In 1891, he sought and received permission from Pope Leo XIII for St. Joseph Church to be named the National Shrine of St. Joseph.  

A Norbertine Ministry

On July 13, 1898, Pope Leo XIII transferred the care of St. Joseph Church to then Fr. Bernard Pennings, O.Praem., and his Norbertine confreres.  Since their arrival in 1893, the Norbertines longed for a place to establish a communal life and a means to support it.  St. Joseph Church provided the early Norbertines with both.

On October 10, 1898, Fr. Pennings began teaching students the beginnings of what eventually became St. Norbert College. In the same year, St. Norbert High School was also established.

On February 10, 1925, the Norbertine priory was raised to abbey status, and Fr. Pennings, O.Praem. was named its first abbot.  St. Joseph Church became the home of the first Norbertine abbey in the United States.  The abbey remained here until a new abbey was built on the east side of De Pere in 1959.


In 1959, the National Shrine of St. Joseph was relocated from St. Norbert College to the crypt of the newly constructed St. Norbert Abbey near the tomb of Abbot Bernard Pennings, O.Praem.

In 1969, the church received the name Church at St. Norbert College, becoming the first college parish in the United States.

In 1976 the parish built a new church on Lourdes Avenue in West De Pere.  This church became known as New St. Joseph Church, while the original church became known as Old St. Joseph Church.  Eventually, New St. Joseph Church became its own parish under the title of Our Lady of Lourdes.

In 2015, the National Shrine of St. Joseph returned to its original location at St. Norbert College.

In July 2022, Fr. Michael Brennan, O.Praem., was appointed pastor of St. Norbert College Parish. That same month, the front of St. Joseph Hall, the site of the first abbey and later St. Joseph Priory, was converted into the parish offices and the Catholic Student Center.

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