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The Shrine of St. Joseph


The National Shrine of St. Joseph is located in the oratory of Old St. Joseph Church on the St. Norbert College campus. The Shrine of St. Joseph and the perpetual novena were originally established on this site in 1888.

During the 1969 architectural renovation of Old St. Joseph Church, the statue of St. Joseph, which had been located upon the high altar, was placed at St. Norbert Abbey, where a sacred location in the abbey crypt was created. The weekly novenas continued at St. Norbert Abbey until 2015. In the spirit of a rekindled interest in the figure and role of St. Joseph in the life of the church, especially among a generation of young men and women who are excited about the rich heritage of Catholic culture and history, the Norbertine Community of St. Norbert Abbey returned the crowned statue of St. Joseph and the Child Jesus to the St. Norbert College campus.  

Returning this devotion to the original site of the St. Joseph novena is not only a response to a renewed enthusiasm for deepening the spiritual life of the college and parish communities, but also a rich opportunity to collaborate with others in reimaging the figure of St. Joseph within 21st-century Catholicism.

Implicit in the return of this devotion to Old St. Joseph Church is the time-honored belief that the life of St. Joseph can inspire all people more actively to discern the dignity and value of manual labor, craftsmanship, rights of workers, adoptive- and foster-parenthood, fatherhood, faith and devotion, and end-of-life expectations. St. Joseph is the traditional patron of these and many causes that continue to challenge and inspire the human spirit.

The shrine's location at Old St. Joseph Church will provide easier access to this historically significant practice of honoring St. Joseph's important role in salvation history. Furthermore, the Norbertine order is confident that by more generously sharing this beautiful work of art and ritual with others within an academic setting, a productive and challenging conversation about culture, faith and life will be better encouraged and facilitated.

History of the Shrine of St. Joseph
French-Canadian Catholics came to the De Pere area in the mid-19th century to work in the lumber mills. In 1870, a parish, named in honor of St. Joseph, was established to serve them. In 1888, The Rev. Joseph Durin, a missionary of the Sacred Heart, became the ninth pastor. He brought with him a strong personal devotion to St. Joseph, which he fostered within the parish and in the diocese. He asked Green Bay's Bishop Frederick Katzer to conduct a solemn blessing of the statue of St. Joseph. He then initiated a weekly novena to St. Joseph that would be conducted every Wednesday of the year.

A bolt of lightning caused the old church to burn down in 1889. With the assistance of Dan Kidney, owner of a boat factory on the Fox River, Durin designed a new and unique church having the architectural shape of the inverted hull of a ship. The new church was completed in 1890 and stands as St. Norbert College Parish at Old St. Joseph Church on the St. Norbert College campus today.

The Solemn Crowning of the Statue of St. Joseph
Encouraged in his work by His Eminence James Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore, Katzer, and by more than 20 other bishops, archbishops and prelates, Durin made plans for the solemn crowning of the statue of St. Joseph. Interestingly, Durin's original inspiration may have come from having witnessed the crowning of a statue of St. Joseph at the Premonstratension (Norbertine) Abbey of Frigolet in 1874. Bishop Sebasitan Messmer, the fourth bishop of Green Bay, affirmed Durin in his efforts, and one of his first official acts as bishop of Green Bay was to officiate at the solemn crowning ceremony (May 1892), in which hundreds of devotees and clergy participated.

The Norbertines Assume Responsibility of the Shrine
When Durin passed away in 1896, the diocese began a search for someone to take over the future operation of the shrine. The search was to end in 1898 with the coming of the Norbertine Fathers. The Shrine of St. Joseph has been under the directorship of the Norbertines since. The directorship coincides with the founding of St. Norbert Priory (now St. Norbert Abbey) on Sept. 28, 1898, by the Norbertines, who had come from Holland in 1893 to do missionary work and start an educational institution.

Abbot Pennings and St. Joseph
Upon completion of his own 30-day novena to St. Joseph, the Rev. (later Abbot) Bernard Pennings, O. Praem., first learned of the possible transfer of the shrine and parish to the Norbertines. The arrival of Pennings and his Norbertine was the beginning of a lasting companion bond between the Norbertine order and the shrine. Pennings was the moving force that cemented this kinship. As founder of the first permanent establishment of the Norbertines in the United States, he constantly nourished his devotion to St. Joseph, along with an undying zeal for St. Norbert and the purposes of his order. The intercessory power of St. Joseph always inspired him. “Nothing I have received or accomplished in life has come to me without St. Joseph's help,” he said. “Yes, I pray to God directly, to the Lord, and to St. Norbert as my intercessor, but St.

In 1870, when devotion to St. Joseph reached a high level of acceptance in the church, Pope Pius IX declared St. Joseph “Patron of the Universal Church.” Pennings had retained his devotion to St. Joseph until his dying day on March 17, 1955. Still alert in mind and full of wit at 93 years of age, the final words on his lips were, “Jesus, Mary, Joseph ... . ”

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