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Reflections on Norbertine Formation


Two Brothers, One Calling

On May 27, 2017, Fr. Michael Brennan, O. Praem., was ordained to the priesthood. The Mass of Ordination was celebrated by Bishop David L. Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay in the St. Norbert Abbey Church.

Frater Michael Brennan, O. Praem. (right), and Christopher Brennan, C.S.C., in 2013.

Frater Michael Brennan, O. Praem. (right), and Christopher Brennan, C.S.C., in 2013.

As seen in the Fall/Winter 2013 issue of Abbey Magazine (page 15)

By Katrina Marshall

Like most siblings, Frater Michael Brennan, O. Praem., and his younger brother Christopher Brennan, C.S.C., have their differences. “Chris is stronger but I can run a lot farther,” said Frater Michael, tennis player and basketball coach. “Despite being smarter [and] more handsome …” began football player Christopher, laughing, “I’m probably more of an introvert.” Regardless of their contrasting hobbies and personalities, these brothers have something very special in common.

On August 28, the Feast of St. Augustine, De Pere Norbertine Frater Michael professed Simple Vows at St. Norbert Abbey. Less than four weeks previous on August 3, Christopher, of the Congregation of Holy Cross, professed First Vows at his Novitiate in Cascade, Colorado. Despite their 12-year age difference, the Brennan brothers are both on track to become priests within the next few years.

“When Mrs. Pearson asked my third grade class at Queen of All Saints to draw a picture of what we wanted to be when we grew up, this is the picture I drew. My mom kept it all these years; 31 years later, I finally grew up.” —Fr. Michael Brennan, O. Praem. | as seen in Surprised By Joy

“When Mrs. Pearson asked my third grade class at Queen of All Saints to draw a picture of what we wanted to be when we grew up, this is the picture I drew. My mom kept it all these years; 31 years later, I finally grew up.” —Fr. Michael Brennan, O. Praem. | as seen in Surprised By Joy

The brothers have strong Indiana roots, born and raised in the Hoosier State. Reflecting on their religious lives growing up, both remember praying at meals, participating in the Stations of the Cross every Friday during Lent, and going to Church regularly. “I knew I was going to be a priest since I was seven years old,” said Frater Michael. Christopher knows that passion for becoming a religious got passed on. “It made for an environment in which a vocation for priesthood was a normal thing to consider. Mike’s discernment is a big part of my story,” he said. The men’s Uncle Ted (their mother’s brother) will also celebrate his 50th year of priesthood in May 2017. Frater Michael graduated from St. Norbert College, the only Norbertine college in the world, in May 1999. The following month, he began the Alliance for Catholic Education Program (ACE) at the University of Notre Dame. As part of his Masters of Education program, he taught and coached in Louisiana, Chicago, and Atlanta for several years.

He returned to De Pere as a novice at St. Norbert Abbey in August 2011 and spent his novitiate year at Holy Spirit House of Studies, the Norbertine house of formation, in Chicago. Frater Michael spent his Second Year Novitiate and Apostolic Year at Notre Dame de la Baie Academy in Green Bay, teaching math and theology to area high school students.

Christopher followed a slightly different path than his older brother. He entered the University of Notre Dame not only as a college student, but also as an undergraduate seminarian at Old College, the Congregation’s formation and discernment program. After a year-long postulancy at Notre Dame as a senior, Christopher graduated in 2012 and spent the next year at the Congregation’s Novitiate in Colorado.

Both Frater Michael and Christopher agree that, while being blessed with a vocation to priesthood and religious life is wonderful, starting to recognize a particular religious community as “home” is even more special.

As he takes his next step toward becoming a priest, Frater Michael will return to live at Holy Spirit House of Studies, where he will prepare for the priesthood at Catholic Theological Union, starting by earning his Masters of Divinity and a Masters of Theology with a concentration in ethics. Christopher will begin his Masters of Divinity at Notre Dame, living at Moreau Seminary.

Frater Michael said he feels passionately about serving others and learning from those who may have much to give but lack the necessities of food, clothing, and shelter. At the heart of his vocation is the Eucharist. “The Eucharist is why I’m Catholic, and why I’m drawn to the priesthood.

“I’m truly blessed to be in formation at this time,” said Frater Michael on the day he professed his Simple Vows. The journey toward priesthood is one he is sharing with not only his blood brother, but also his community brothers, the men in formation with him.

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Podcast Episode 011: Norbertine Encounter—Drawn by Community

Deacon (now Fr.) Bradley Vanden Branden, O. Praem., on the day of his priestly ordination.

Deacon (now Fr.) Bradley Vanden Branden, O. Praem., on the day of his priestly ordination. Read “Reflections on a Restless Heart” »

Vocational seeds are often planted in the most unexpected or unusual ways. Join our two co-hosts as they reminisce about their journey toward priesthood and how God and the Norbertine community drew them in.

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Come and See: Learn About Priesthood and Norbertine Life

John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi [which translated means Teacher], where are you staying?”

He said to them, “Come, and you will see.”

—John 1:35-39

By Fr. Michael Brennan, O. Praem.

Fr. Michael Brennan, O. Praem. (right) at St. Norbert College

Fr. Michael Brennan, O. Praem. (right) at St. Norbert College

It was a cool, crisp October day when I first visited St. Norbert College (SNC) as a prospective student in the fall of 1994. One of the highlights of that visit was sitting down with Fr. James Baraniak, O. Praem., and listening to his vocation story and enthusiasm for priesthood and Norbertine life.

This past fall, serving as assistant director of Norbertine vocations, I found myself on the other side of that conversation when I had the opportunity to welcome another prospective SNC student to discuss his interest in SNC and Norbertine priesthood.

Given this encouraging visit, as well as the growing interest of several young men from Notre Dame de la Baie Academy (NDA) who are also discerning the priesthood, Fr. Baraniak, Fr. Bradley Vanden Branden, O. Praem., and I decided to host a Come and See evening for high school students at St. Norbert Abbey in early January. After joining us for Mass, Vespers, dinner with the community, and abbey tours, an NDA freshmen told me, “I’m really glad that I came tonight!”

This high school Come and See evening is one of four vocation experiences that our abbey community has hosted throughout the last several months. These well-received evenings have included men from Silver Lake College and SNC, as well as individual visits from college-aged men across the United States.

We hope to continue our journey with these young men as they discern God’s call to serve God and neighbor as members of our Norbertine community.

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If you or someone you know might make be interested in joining the Norbertine community, we encourage you to contact our vocation office to schedule a similar Come and See experience!

Norbertine Vocations Team »


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