Norbertines of Saint Norbert Abbey in De Pere, Wisconsin
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Norbertine Formation Program


The most natural surrounding for the fostering of Norbertine vocations takes place when a man has on-going contact with Norbertines working in a Norbertine Apostolate. Often times, those who choose to enter the Order are products of a Norbertine educational institution or are members of a Norbertine parish. And still others hear about our work through other sources or are attracted by information they come across through advertising materials.

Nevertheless, before one applies to the Order, it is assumed that a relationship has been forged between the inquirer (a vocation contact) and members of the Order. We would hope that the inquirer would be involved in at least one year of discernment in dialogue with the Norbertine Vocation Coordinator. If one is seriously contemplating the Order, a spiritual director will be supplied for the contact, given the inquirer's and director's mutual compatibility.

Exposure to the Order includes attending a retreat at the Abbey. This may include a vocation retreat, a personal retreat or the annual Triduum retreat. As one's relationship with the Community deepens, the vocation director will arrange for the contact to meet with the Norbertine Formation Director, the Prior of the Community, and the Abbot. At the same time, the contact will be exposed to Norbertines working in various Norbertine houses and apostolates.

If there is a feeling of mutual comfort on the part of the individual and the Order, a contact may request an application for entrance into the Norbertine Order. The application process includes the completion of the application, the writing of a personal spiritual autobiography, the submission of three names for character and personal reference and the completion of a comprehensive psychological and physical examination administered by the Norbertine Order. Once the information is obtained, it is directed to the Abbot and his council for approval. Again, if there is a mutual comfort between the individual and the Community, the applicant is admitted into the novitiate of St. Norbert Abbey


Entering the Order - NorbertinesThe guiding philosophy and inspiration for the Formation Program remains "Becoming a Norbertine: The Formation Process of St. Norbert Abbey" which itself is inspired by the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. The formation program for St. Norbert Abbey offers a two year novitiate program. After the novitiate, a novice professes Simple Vows of poverty, chastity and obedience for a period of three to six years. After three years of Simple Vows, the "junior" may profess solemn Vows which is a lifetime commitment to Norbertine religious life and concludes the initial formation program.

The purpose and direction of the Formation Program is:
  • To foster continued discernment as to the nature and direction of each novice's and junior's vocation; 
  • To move them toward a clearer understanding of Norbertine charisms, spirituality, way of living, history, and vision;
  • To foster an experiential as well as intellectual meaning of the vows;
  • To provide a setting wherein each junior can move into greater incorporation and participation in the greater Community.
St. Norbert at St. Norbert Abbey in De Pere, WIThe means by which these aims are achieved include:
  • Familiarity with documents and literature foundational to Norbertine life: viz., The Constitutions, The Rule of Augustine, Community Vision Statement; Canonry Book of Customs;
  • Sharing in daily life and living in the context of a Norbertine community, especially shared liturgical prayer and table;
  • Familiarity with the "living history" of present day Norbertines;
  • Deepening the junior's spiritual life by continued study of theology and prayer and reflection on Scripture.

Adaptation and individualization are key elements of the Formation Program. Changing times, smaller class numbers and older age of entering members necessitates a shift in the traditional paradigm of Norbertine formation. The local community has seemingly replaced the larger novitiate and junior classes as environments for teaching and learning the meaning of community and communal living. At the same time, the wide range of age and background experiences of those entering the novitiate necessitates adapting the formation process to the diverse backgrounds and experiences of the individual and to varying degrees to individualizing rather than standardizing especially the academic and apostolic aspects of the formation program.

The implementation of the formation program is made manifest in the following ways.


First Year NovitiateThe first element of the formation process involves a lengthy period of withdrawal, prayer, and deliberate effort to live a communal, consecrated life. This period is primarily a time of deepening discernment, exploring the landscape of Norbertine communal life, and evaluating the kind of call one has received.

As such, it requires a withdrawal from one's former life. The point of the first year experience is to slow down, to make time for prayer and reflection, to begin a process of determining the "fit" of one's calling with the vision and reality of Norbertine life. To accomplish this, the novice will be asked to cut some ties, to curtail some relationships, and to re-orientate his life around a communal and, in particular, Norbertine center.

During the Novitiate, the novice will have extended periods of quiet and seclusion in which to pray and reflect. Classes will also be offered in Norbertine and Christian spirituality and history, prayer and prayer forms, and, in particular will focus on foundational documents in Norbertine life. Special focus will be placed on liturgical prayer in the Norbertine tradition.

Finally, each novice will complete and follow a "Personal Growth Plan" as a means of developing and integrating the spiritual, emotional, physical and intellectual dimensions of their person. These will be discussed at spiritual direction and at the regular meetings with the Norbertine Director of Formation and his associate director.

Second Semester and the Year in General

St. Norbert at St. Norbert Abbey in De Pere, WIIn the period from New Year's until the start of his second year, the novice will continue to be shaped and formed inthe values of simplicity, chastity, self-control, and common life. During this period there will be a certain "relaxing" of hermitage expectations and routines. However, the unique quality and character of the hermitage should not be lost. Throughout the year regular attendance at prayer, Eucharist, meals and recreation, classes and gatherings is expected.

During the second part of the first year, novices may engage in a limited apostolic activity, e.g., ministry in a Norbertine parish, educational institution or an area hospital. The kind of activity will depend upon the individual's background and experience but it should neither interfere with nor offset the tone set during the hermitage period.

Each novice will make a retreat at some point during his first year. An annual retreat is required of all people in every stage of the Formation process.


Second Year NovitiateThe same values and goals apply to second year as to the first. Discernment continues as primary interest but with an even tighter focus on one's calling to Norbertine Community and way of life. The second year Novitiate directs the novice into a fuller participation and understanding of the Norbertine Community and its mission.

This may be done by arranging for an apostolic assignment at one of the Norbertine Apostolates. However, this assignment will be not more than half-time. The second year novice must continue to fully participate in common prayer and table as well as other Novitiate activities. Any apostolate is secondary to this.

Vocation from the Norbertines in De Pere, WIDuring the second year attention will also focus on appropriate theological or pre-theological studies either at St. Norbert College, at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago or some other suitable location. As such, the second year may be a time for taking classes in philosophy or to complete one's undergraduate work in preparation for theological studies. More specific plans for applying to do advanced study will be made toward the end of the first semester and early on the second semester of the second year.

Throughout the second year each novice will continue to attend novitiate and house prayer times, to meet regularly with one's spiritual director and with the Formation Director. At regular times throughout the year, both first and second year novices will join with other juniors for reflection days either at the Abbey or at the House of Studies in Chicago.

During the summer of the second year, the novices will make a retreat focusing on vows in preparation for profession of simple vows.

In initial formation, due to the nature of the formation goals and vision of incorporation into communal life, no distinction is made between candidates for priesthood or brotherhood.


Vocation from the Norbertines in De Pere, WIThe Norbertine Community is comprised of men who embody a variety of different talents, personalities and cultures. A diversity in education is also embedded with the Order. Norbertines of St. Norbert Abbey have received graduate degrees from Notre Dame University, Marquette University, St. Louis University, Harvard University, University of Wisconsin, University of Chicago, University of San Francisco just to name a few. While the Community is open to the desires and needs of its individuals, Catholic Theological Union in Chicago remains the official theologate for Norbertines pursuing Holy Orders.

Catholic Theological Union is now the largest Roman Catholic school of theology in the United States, serving thirty provinces and abbeys of religious men as an official theologate. It also serves other students, lay and religious, in the preparation for ministry. One out of every six religious priesthood candidates in the United States is trained at Catholic Theological Union.

There is a living sense of purpose which guides a school more effectively than any written statement. From the very beginning, it was understood that Catholic Theological Union would be a school of ministry. Theology would be directed to practice. The by-laws concisely stated this objective: to train and teach aspirants to the Roman Catholic priesthood so that they may be fully qualified to meet the requirements of such priesthood.

Vocation from the Norbertines in De Pere, WIAs a school grows, a periodic review of its purposes is necessary. In 1980, Catholic Theological Union reviewed its goals and adopted a new Mission Statement:

Catholic Theological Union at Chicago is a school of ministry in the Roman Catholic tradition, begun in 1968 by a number of religious communities of men who combined resources in order to educate more creatively for priesthood. Today that founding vision embraces preparation for many forms of public ministry in the Church from ordained priesthood to lay ministries. Catholic Theological Union accepts qualified men and women who show vocational commitment and seek graduate ministerial education.

The community life of the school reflects the influence of the religious institutes which founded and sponsor the school. Thus inclusion, mutuality and participation mark the ecclesial context of the entire educational program. Within this context students live, grow and experience formation in faith and ministry. It also provides the impetus for the school's strong emphasis on mission, justice, and the cross-cultural dynamics of ministry in the modern world and in a global church. Membership in the Association of Chicago Theological Schools and cooperation with the Divinity School of the University of Chicago offer opportunities for ecumenical participation in the preparation for ministry and for academic research in theology.

Vocation from the Norbertines in De Pere, WIAfter solemn profession and as one approaches the conclusion of theological studies, the Norbertine Brother will deliberate with the Prior and Abbey Personnel Committee to determine where the Norbertine will minister given the Norbertine's gifts and the Order's needs. If the solemnly professed is a priesthood candidate, the junior may apply for Holy Orders including deaconate and priesthood. After ordination to the deaconate, the newly ordained will be engaged in a deaconate internship, usually in a parish setting, to achieve greater experience in pastoral and liturgical ministry. After the six month to one year internship, the deacon will be ordained to the priesthood. In preparation for priestly ministry, the newly ordained will engage in deliberation with the prior and Abbey Personnel Committee to determine where the Norbertine will best minister. At this point, the formal formational training iscompleted. Now the Norbertine will engage in a life-long process of ongoing formation in Norbertine life.


Vocation from the Norbertines in De Pere, WIRegardless of the information printed or the pictures captured on this website, one cannot gain a complete understanding or appreciation of the members of St. Norbert Abbey by considering this information alone. In the same vein, we cannot come to know an inquirer wholly by the information we ask to be completed in various application forms. Rather, a personal meeting is necessary for us to get to know each other in a more suitable and personal manner.

To begin this process, we ask that you complete the Norbertine Background Information Form, available by calling the Office for Norbertine Vocations at 920.337.4333. Returning the form conveys that you are interested in our work and would like to learn more about our way of life.

A member of the St. Norbert Abbey Canonry Vocation Ministry Team will contact you soon to find an agreeable time in which we can continue the experience. As Norbertines of St. Norbert Abbey, we look forward to that meeting. Your interest in our way of life is one more way the Norbertine Order remains ever ancient, ever new!

Norbertines of Saint Norbert Abbey