St. Norbert College


Making a Difference—One Lunch at a Time

December 11, 2017

On November 30, 2017, 34 St. Norbert College students visited St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter as part of their Sacred Art and Architecture class taught by art professor Fr. James Neilson, O. Praem.

“When they heard what was going on at the shelter, they all wanted to take part—they all wanted to do a little something and we decided let’s do something as a group, lets blend this into the class,” said Fr. Neilson.

The students donated money to make 80 bagged lunches for the shelter as well as dozens of backpacks and hoodies, something residents need at the shelter.

“This is a class that recognizes what is most sacred in the world is human dignity … and if we can help attend to that then we all feel like we’ve succeeded increasing our awareness of that which is truly sacred in the world,” said Fr. Neilson.

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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.

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Heart & Soul: Gateway Seminar for First-Year Students Teaches Norbertine History and Values

As seen in the Fall/Winter 2017 issue of Abbey Magazine (page 7)

By Gina Sanders Larsen and Judy Turba

Frater Anh Tran, O. Praem. (left), and Frater Johnathan Turba, O. Praem., visit with students who learn about the history and mission of St. Norbert of Xanten and St. Norbert College through the Gateway Seminar.

Frater Anh Tran, O. Praem. (left), and Frater Johnathan Turba, O. Praem., visit with students who learn about the history and mission of St. Norbert of Xanten and St. Norbert College through the Gateway Seminar.

The inaugural Gateway Seminar for all incoming first-year St. Norbert College (SNC) students is in full swing. The seminar is a recently established graduation requirement; the new students gather once or twice a week during the fall semester in 22 small groups, each led by a three-person teaching team, typically comprised of two staff members and an upperclass student. The diverse teaching teams are charged with introducing the young adults to the history and mission of St. Norbert of Xanten and St. Norbert College. They also help new SNC students acclimate to college life and become familiar with one another and with faculty, staff, and Norbertines on campus who can assist them with their questions or concerns.

“St. Norbert College has had a first-year experience program for a long time, but it’s only this year when it became mandatory, which allows us to increase the number of sessions, deepen the content, and specifically educate our students on our history and mission,” said Fr. Jay Fostner, O. Praem., Ph.D., vice president for mission and student affairs at SNC. “Research demonstrates that first-year experience courses increase retention, help students bond with the institution, and create positive and deeper relationships between students, faculty, and staff.”

Fr. Michael Brennan, O. Praem., Frater Johnathan Turba, O. Praem., Frater Anh Tran, O. Praem., and Norbertine Associate Ellen Mommaerts, director of the Norbertine Volunteer Community, are each members of Gateway teaching teams. As young men in formation for the priesthood, Frater Turba and Frater Tran are often on campus. Fr. Brennan, SNC vocation coordinator, is also active in the College of Chaplains at SNC (see “Heart & Soul: College of Chaplains Returns to Campus, St. Norbert College Parish”).

“It’s become my new normal to have people approach me and ask questions about the priesthood,” Frater Turba said, especially considering that he is always wearing his white Norbertine habit. “If that’s the one thing that comes of our participation in Gateway— students engaging us in conversation—I think it’s wonderful. We are proof that St. Norbert is not just a man who lived 900 years ago, but through his ‘sons’ is still a living, breathing presence on our campus today.”

Frater Tran first came to the United States from Vietnam as a high school foreign exchange student. His American grandfather is an SNC graduate, and that connection led Frater Tran to attend and graduate from SNC with a business degree before joining the order. “It really does take a village to live and grow,” he said. “I rely on many others to help guide me, and now I help new students make connections that will help them discover new
people and ideas.”

The 2017-2018 SNC first-year class is comprised of 542 students from 13 states and eight countries. “We have abbeys around the world, and Norbertines are an international order. Here we strive to create a campus community that is diverse and welcoming,” said Fr. Fostner. “The Gateway Seminar helps us nurture a community where learning happens within the context of our rich Catholic, Norbertine, and liberal arts traditions.”

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