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Serving a Universal Church...

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The History of St. Norbert of Xanten »

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Serving a Universal Church: From Prémontré to De Pere and Beyond

Abbot Bernard Pennings, O. Praem.

Abbot Bernard Pennings, O. Praem.

Norbert of Xanten was a reformer who embraced Gospel values. After spending a year in prayer and meditation, on Christmas Day AD 1121 in the valley of Prémontré, France, he founded the Norbertine Order—one of the oldest religious orders in the world today. Since Norbert and his followers (Canons Regular of Prémontré, Premonstratensians, or perhaps more commonly known as Norbertines) made their first profession of vows, Norbertine abbeys, priories, and convents have been established on almost every continent.

The earliest Norbertine foundation attempts in the United States date back to 1842, when Norbertines from Wilten Abbey in Innsbruck, Austria, arrived to perform considerable apostolic work in southwestern Wisconsin. However, suppression of religious orders in their home country caused this band of Wisconsin Norbertines to dissolve in 1890.

In 1893, at the request of the Bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay, three Dutch Norbertines arrived from Berne Abbey in Holland and immediately engaged in ministry on the Door County “Belgium” peninsula of Wisconsin. The first permanent Norbertine foundation in the United States was established by Fr. Bernard Pennings, O. Praem., who later would become the first American Norbertine abbot.

Five years after his arrival in the States, Fr. Pennings established St. Norbert Priory and St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin. His Norbertine community grew in numbers and they established a permanent residence in De Pere. The priory was raised to the status of an abbey in 1925.

Ever Ancient, Ever New

1080 Birth of Norbert (in present-day Germany)
1115 Norbert has conversion experience
1121 Norbert founds the Norbertine Order (in present-day France)
1126 Norbert consecrated Archbishop of Magdeburg
1134 Death of Norbert
1134 Berne Abbey founded (in present-day Netherlands)
1582 Norbert canonized a saint
1893 Fr. Bernard Pennings, O. Praem., and two other Norbertines from Berne Abbey arrive in the Diocese of Green Bay
1898 Fr. Pennings establishes St. Norbert Priory in De Pere
1898 Fr. Pennings founds St. Norbert College in De Pere
1908 St. Norbert Priory becomes independent of Berne Abbey
1925 St. Norbert Priory becomes St. Norbert Abbey with Fr. Pennings as its first abbot
1959 New St. Norbert Abbey building completed in De Pere

Community: The Hallmark of Norbertine Life

Community: The Hallmark of Norbertine LifeThe Norbertine Order is rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Rule of St. Augustine, which calls Norbertines to be of “one heart and one mind on the way to God.” Norbertine community life is characterized by the power of the Holy Spirit and a desire to be of service to God’s People. Neither monks nor diocesan priests, Norbertines collaborate in common ministry to the local Church while living in community.

Five key principles and practices underlie the Norbertine experience of community. These principles are fundamental to the Norbertine experience and to the continuing development of community within all Norbertine houses and apostolates.

  1. Common prayer: a witness and invitation to the liturgical prayer of the Church, particularly as expressed in the Liturgy of the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours.
  2. Self-emptying service: a willingness to cede one’s personal advantage for the good of the community, particularly as expressed in the generosity and discipline required to participate in the structures that support community life.
  3. Collegiality: a firm commitment to governance by consultation and to interdependence in decision-making.
  4. Subsidiarity: an encouraged independence of sub-groups allowing decisions to be made and responsibility to rest where the issue can be competently handled.
  5. Complementarity: an active cooperation with lay men and women whose often differing life experiences and competencies provide completion and enrichment.

The Mission of St. Norbert Abbey

Fr. Matthew Dougherty, O. Praem.

Fr. Matthew Dougherty, O. Praem.

The Norbertine Community of St. Norbert Abbey is engaged in a variety of ministries, internally and externally. Regardless of individual apostolates, our mission remains the same:

As Canons Regular of Prémontré, we, the members of St. Norbert Abbey, commit ourselves to the following mission:

Christ and the Church call us to live as a community of one mind and one heart on the way to God, in a manner consistent with the Gospel, the spirit of our founders, and the Constitutions of our order.

We, therefore, dedicate ourselves to active “communio,” encouraging each other by word and example. We commit ourselves to a life-long conversion, to the apostolic way of life, and to service to the world. We embrace those persons already dedicated to our mission and welcome the association of other men and women.

God summons us to hear the Good News of salvation and to proclaim the kingdom of freedom, love, justice, and peace.

We commit ourselves to the ministry of the Word. We promise to witness to the reality of this Word in our common life and to share it with all the people we serve.

Jesus the Lord challenges us to shape an ecclesial spirituality expressed in liturgical celebration, personal prayer, and a journey of faith to the kingdom.

We profess a poverty that reflects a simplicity of life, a celibacy that opens us to growth in the Spirit in union with men and women, and an obedience that makes us attentive to God’s will. We dedicate ourselves to a life of self-giving rooted in the Eucharist and common prayer. This is the environment for our apostolic formation, for our reconciliation, and for our life-long personal and spiritual growth.

The Spirit lays a claim on us to engage in a variety of ministries to one another, to the People of God, and to the world at large.

We give ourselves in service to one another and to people in need, with special emphasis on service and advocacy for the poor. We commit ourselves to our traditional ministries, while being open to new apostolates. We strive to live with the tensions that are associated with the relationship between contemplation and action, community life and apostolates.

God urges us to face the future with openness, hope, and courage.

We, the members of St. Norbert Abbey, in union with Christ and the Church, move into our future with its diverse challenges in a spirit of faith, hope, and love. Inspired by Mary our Mother and Norbert our founder, we wholeheartedly devote ourselves and our resources to continue the work of the Lord.

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