Heart & Soul: Norbertines and St. Norbert College Share Charisms, Values

As seen in the Fall/Winter 2017 issue of Abbey Magazine (pages 4-5)

By Gina Sanders Larsen and Judy Turba

(L-R) Frater Anh Tran, O. Praem. (front), Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem., President Brian Bruess, Abbot Gary Neville, O. Praem., Fr. James Herring, O. Praem. (standing), Fr. Tim Shillcox, O. Praem.

(L-R) Frater Anh Tran, O. Praem. (front), Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem., President Brian Bruess, Abbot Gary Neville, O. Praem., Fr. James Herring, O. Praem. (standing), Fr. Tim Shillcox, O. Praem.

They exist on opposite sides of the Fox River in De Pere, Wisconsin, but the unwavering bond between the Norbertines of St. Norbert Abbey and St. Norbert College is strong and unambiguous. A new college president, a re-energized campus parish, and an innovative first-year student experience illustrate the institutions’ steadfast connection, “to be of one mind and one heart on the way to God” (The Rule of St. Augustine).

With a warm and gracious greeting, Fr. James Baraniak, O. Praem., and Judy Turba met with Brian Bruess, recently named president of St. Norbert College (SNC), after his first month in office. During their time together, this most impressive 1990 SNC graduate shared thoughts about his journey, his vision for the college, and its connection to the Norbertine community, as well as what it means to come home.

Being an alum, I believe the stakes are higher for me as I serve in this role as president because St. Norbert College is not only a place I love but also a place that formed me.

—Brian Bruess

Brian Bruess, Ph.D., 50, eighth president of St. Norbert College, is only the second alumnus ever to serve in this role; Fr. Dennis Burke, O. Praem., was the first, and the similarities are striking. “Fr. Burke also followed an exceptional leader, Abbot (Bernard) Pennings, the founder of St. Norbert College,” said Bruess. “I, too, am following an outstanding and tremendously successful leader, Tom (Thomas) Kunkel. Needless to say, their extraordinary leadership is both intimidating and inspiring.” In fact, the year Bruess was born, Fr. Burke was retiring. Bruess remembers vividly from his years at the college a painting of Fr. Burke walking across the campus with then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy. “The image has stayed with me all of these years.”

Bruess’ excitement is palpable and contagious. He realizes he is inheriting the helm of one of the top-ranked Catholic liberal arts colleges in the country. “Being an alum, I believe the stakes are higher for me because St. Norbert College is not only a place I love but also a place that formed me. Here I began to contemplate a career in higher education through the encouragement of faculty and administrators. I have had opportunities to serve elsewhere, but I honestly feel called here. It’s my vocation.”

Bruess shared his deep commitment to the college’s mission: “St. Norbert College, a Catholic liberal arts college embracing the Norbertine ideal of communio, provides an educational environment that fosters intellectual, spiritual, and personal development.” The mission statement emphatically stresses the tripartite—Catholic, Norbertine, liberal arts—all of which are inseparable and equally important. “This is the only Norbertine college in the world, and society has never needed St. Norbert College graduates more than now. The charism here is rich and powerful, distinctive and transformational.” Through regular meetings with the abbot and members of the abbot’s council, he will envision with the Norbertine community how best to sustain this mission. “I feel significantly responsible to represent Norbertine values and ensure that these values are woven within all aspects of our education.”

Given Bruess’ experience in higher education, his highly regarded expertise, commitment to Norbertine values, and passion for his alma mater—the sky is the limit. He is ready to serve.

Meet Brian Bruess, SNC College President and Alumnus

President Brian Bruess

President Brian Bruess

President Brian Bruess received bachelor of arts degrees in sociology and psychology from St. Norbert College with master’s and doctoral degrees from Ohio University, Athens, Ohio. He most recently served at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota, as executive vice president and chief operating officer. During his 21-year tenure there, he also was involved with enrollment management, finance, student affairs, and information technology. Bruess and his wife, Carol, also a 1990 graduate of St. Norbert College and most recently professor of communication and journalism at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, have two children: Gracie, a high school senior, and Tony, a Stanford University senior.

Read More

Welcome Home Brian Bruess, Ph.D.

September 29, 2017

(L-R) Frater Anh Tran, O. Praem. (front), Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem., President Brian Bruess, Abbot Gary Neville, O. Praem., Fr. James Herring, O. Praem. (standing), Fr. Tim Shillcox, O. Praem.

(L-R) Frater Anh Tran, O. Praem. (front), Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem., President Brian Bruess, Abbot Gary Neville, O. Praem., Fr. James Herring, O. Praem. (standing), Fr. Tim Shillcox, O. Praem.

President. Alumnus. Friend.

President Brian Bruess

President Brian Bruess

The Norbertine Community of St. Norbert Abbey congratulates Brian Bruess, Ph.D., on the occasion of his inauguration as the eighth president of St. Norbert College.

In the News

Heart & Soul: Norbertines and St. Norbert College Share Charisms, Values
By Gina Sanders Larsen and Judy Turba
Fall/Winter 2017 (pages 4-5)
Abbey Magazine

MHS alum named college president
Bruess heads St. Norbert, considered a top Catholic liberal arts colleges in US
October 26, 2017
The Monroe Times

Highlights From Inauguration, Heritage Week and Homecoming 2017
October 16, 2017
St. Norbert College (YouTube)

St. Norbert College holds inauguration for new president, Brian J. Bruess
October 11, 2017
The Green Bay Press-Gazette

Inauguration Day for new St. Norbert College president
October 11, 2017
FOX 11

Inauguration of new St. Norbert College president takes place Oct. 11
October 5, 2017
The Compass

The Inauguration of Brian Bruess Eighth President of St. Norbert College
September 21, 2017
St. Norbert College

Presidential Inauguration
St. Norbert College

Inauguration ceremonies set for new St. Norbert president
FOX 11


St. Norbert College is streaming the inauguration ceremony live at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 11, 2017.

Watch live (YouTube) »

October 11, 2017 — Mass of Celebration

Theme: Fiat Lux (“Let there be light”)

Rev. Gery Gerald Francis Meehan, O. Praem.

July 6, 1934 – August 23, 2017

Fr. Gery Meehan, O. Praem.

Fr. Gery Meehan, O. Praem.

Fr. Meehan, age 83, a member of the Norbertine Community of St. Norbert Abbey and a Norbertine priest, teacher, principal, and pastor, passed into God’s Eternal Kingdom on August 23, 2017.

Fr. Meehan was born on July 6, 1934, in Philadelphia to John and Elizabeth (Campbell) Meehan.

In 1952, Fr. Meehan graduated from the Norbertine Southeast Catholic High School in Philadelphia. He received a B.A. degree in philosophy from St. Norbert College (SNC) in 1957.

Upon entering St. Norbert Abbey, he was vested as a novice on August 28, 1952. He professed Simple Vows on August 28, 1954, Solemn Vows on August 28, 1957, and was ordained to the priesthood on June 18, 1960.

Fr. Meehan began his teaching and administrative ministry at Abbot Pennings High School, spending 19 years in the classroom and 11 years as principal. During this time, he also completed his M.A. degree in French at Middlebury College, Vermont. He also served several terms as house superior at St. Norbert Abbey and at St. Joseph Priory. For almost 30 years, Fr. Meehan assisted with weekend parish ministry at St. Mary Parish in De Pere. He devoted much time and care by his participation in the Cursillo Movement for 20 years, and he coordinated the St. Norbert Abbey youth retreat program for three years. He was a French and German instructor at SNC for two years, and was named pastor of St. Norbert College Parish at Old St. Joseph Church and director of campus ministry from August 1993 to February 2001. After his ministry at SNC, Fr. Meehan ministered to the Hispanic parishioners at St. Willebrord Parish in Green Bay and at a number of local nursing homes.

Fr. Meehan has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the 1985 Ft. Howard Paper Foundation Humanitarian Award, the 1990 St. Norbert College Silver Knight Award, and the 1994 Roses for the Living Rotary Award.

Fr. Meehan is survived by the Norbertine Community of St. Norbert Abbey; two brothers, James Meehan and Jack (Mary) Meehan; and beloved niece, Christine Parsley. Fr. Meehan is also survived by the hundreds of students to whom he ministered so selflessly at SNC and his cherished Abbot Pennings High School.

He was preceded in death by his parents and two sisters: Sr. Clare Amata Meehan, IHM, and Christine (Meehan) Perham.

The Norbertine Community is grateful for the extraordinary care Fr. Meehan received from the abbey medical and nursing staff, and for the many friends who visited him throughout his recent illness.


Visitation will be held in the Church of St. Norbert Abbey on Wednesday, August 30, 2017, beginning with Vespers of the Dead – Reception of the Body at 5 p.m. and continuing until 8 p.m.

Visitation will continue at the abbey on Thursday, August 31, 2017, from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.

The Mass of Christian Burial, expressing our faith and hope in the promised glory of the Lord’s Resurrection, will be held in the abbey church on Thursday, August 31, 2017, at 4 p.m.; the Rt. Rev. Gary J. Neville, O. Praem., abbot of St. Norbert Abbey, will serve as principal celebrant and homilist at the concelebrated funeral liturgy.

Burial will follow immediately in the St. Norbert Abbey cemetery.

Ryan Funeral Home, De Pere, is in charge of the arrangements.

Read More about Fr. Meehan

“Vivat in Eternum”: Reflections on Two Funerals

By Bob Woessner

Past Pennings High School Parent, “Green Bay Press-Gazette” Writer

It has been our good fortune to have avoided going to many funerals. But a week ago Thursday there were two – an hour apart in churches a mile apart.

The first, at 4 p.m. at St. Norbert Abbey, was for Father Gery Meehan. He was the principal at Abbot Pennings where our three sons went to high school. The second, at Resurrection Parish, was for Patricia O’Neill. She and Kit were in a book group together.

Pat struck me as a vibrant and intense person who did lots of good work for many people during a life of 73 years. That included 16 years in village government, the last two as president. She fell victim to a cancer so aggressive that it was only a few weeks from diagnosis to death.

The journalist in me wants to say Rev. Gery Meehan, who was 83, as the AP Stylebook dictates. But everyone called him Father. That is the way he will be remembered by the hundreds of students he encountered at Pennings in his 30 years as teacher and principal.

Pennings was one of two Norbertine high schools in the Green bay area. The two and St. Joseph’s Academy, the all-girl school our daughter attended, were folded into one in 1990. Finances and fewer priests and nuns made the merger inevitable. But the decision embittered many people. Someone who knew him well told me it broke Father Meehan’s heart.

The APHS building was a hand-me-down from a De Pere school district. Enrollment was rarely more than a few hundred but the place always seemed crowded and noisy. Growing boys in jackets and ties clomped and thundered up and down stairs. Most of the jackets and ties were from Goodwill or someone’s closet of worn-outs. The dress-code garb was worn only during the school day, rarely laundered and often left to compost in lockers.

Looking back, three things made Pennings work. One, as son Tim noted, the place was small enough that most any student with a pulse could find an activity. Second, finances were so precarious that parents had to be involved in fundraising and that forged a sense of community.

The final reason was Father Meehan. The abbot who delivered the funeral homily said Gery “lived as a gentleman.” I did not see the text but assume there was a space between “gentle” and “man.” Father Meehan was a gentleman – well-mannered and civil – but also a gentle man who was both a mentor and a model for boys who likely are better men because of him.

The logistics of the two-funeral day led us to a mid-afternoon visitation for Pat, to Father Meehan’s funeral and then to a country-club reception for Pat.

After Father Meehan’s liturgy we followed the Norbertines – many white-haired and age-bowed – to the cemetery a few hundred yards from the Abbey. The white-robes gathered around the open grave. As late-summer sun lengthened shadows, they sang “Vivat in Eternum,” not a dirge but an exaltation for someone who “lives forever.”

At the reception, Pat’s husband held off his grief to talk of her life and his loss with eloquence and humor. You wondered how he could do that and if you could if the sad task became yours.

I wore a wore a coat and tie for the day – something I do rarely. That was proper attire for the country club. But the real reason was that Father Meehan would have approved.

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