We understand that this may be a time of uncertainty or change in your life, and we’re happy to answer any questions you may have as you discern a possible call to a religious vocation. To speak with vocation director Fr. Michael Brennan, O. Praem., call 920-403-3012 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Norbertines are known by a number of names: “Premonstratensian Fathers,” “Canons Regular of Prémontré,” and “White Fathers.” However, in the United States we’re known primarily as “Norbertines” after our founder, St. Norbert of Xanten (d. 1134).
The Norbertine Order is the fifth oldest remaining Catholic religious order in the world and was founded as a means to reform the clergy, bringing the monastic life (according to the Rule of St. Augustine) to clerics. Today Norbertine abbeys can be found on five continents, where members live lives of both action and contemplation as they serve the needs of the local Church.
Learn more about the Norbertine way of life and what it means to be a Norbertine in the Fall/Winter 2016 issue of Abbey Magazine (pages 4-6).
In the 12th century a “canon” was a member of the clergy whose name was listed in the “canon” of a particular diocese or cathedral. In other words, canons were simply priests connected to a given ecclesiastical body.
By the Middle Ages, many canons became lax in their faith, living extravagant and worldly lives. To address such laxity, certain bishops and religious reformers placed the canons under a rule of life (like the Rule of St. Augustine), asking them to live lives of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Thus, a canon regular is a cleric who lives by a religious/monastic rule.
Learn more about what makes canons regular unique in the Fall/Winter 2016 issue of Abbey Magazine (pages 4-6).
As Norbertines we take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to an abbot and live a community life in an abbey. Diocesan priests, on the other hand, take promises of chastity and obedience to the local diocesan bishop (they do not take vows of poverty) and often live alone or with one or two other priests.
Learn more about these vows in the Fall/Winter 2016 issue of Abbey Magazine (pages 4-6).
Our vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience reflect the life of the poor, chaste, and obedient Christ. By vowing ourselves to these evangelical counsels, we try to follow more closely in the footsteps of Christ. Following are sections from the Constitutions of our order that describes each vow in turn:
- Poverty: “By the vow of living without anything we can call our own, and having all things in common, we ought to say that all we have is at the service of those with whom our profession has joined us. All things which are given to the community should be distributed to each one as each one has need… Thus, we shall be witnesses, following Christ, that all man has, and all that he is, has been given to him to be placed at the service of men to help them to obtain the happiness for which they are destined; thus also we shall be giving witness that the kingdom of God, already begun in Christ, should be held in higher esteem than created things” (Constitutions of the Order, 43).
- Celibate Chastity: “In order that we may be able to respond to the vocation of manifesting the presence of the kingdom of God in this world and that we may follow our proposal to live life in community, we choose a celibate life by which we dedicate ourselves fully to God and the brethren. Through fraternal love and friendship in common life and through a solicitude toward men, our celibacy should be endowed with a humanity which reveals the love of God for men and promotes our human happiness… We should also realize that the cross, burdens, mortification, and the custody of one’s senses are necessarily included in the celibate life” (Constitutions of the Order, 44).
- Obedience: “Our community in which ‘the prelate is to be obeyed as a Father,’ is placed within the ‘mystery’ of the obedience of Christ, whose food it was to do the will of the Father ‘so that the sons of God which were dispersed, might be brought together in unity’ (Jo. 11:52). We should all seek the will of the Father by being open to the Spirit of Christ and dedicate our own wills through obedience to the service of God and the brethren so that the unity for which Christ offered himself may be increased in our community. Through the light of the Word of God and the teachings of the Church, the Divine Will is made known to us through the internal workings of grace, by the discerning of spirits in fraternal dialogue, by the exigencies of our common life and constitutions, by the direction of superiors, by the example of the brothers, by the demands of our work, by the signs of the times and by the events surrounding our lives” (Constitutions of the Order, 45).
A vocation is a calling from God, each person has a unique call, and it is every person’s duty to respond to God’s invitation. A vocation is a journey towards holiness; it’s a process in discovering how God desires each one of us to live. We come to understand our vocation through our Christian life—participating in the Sacraments, spending time in prayer, listening to others, surrounding ourselves with mentors, and in understanding our gifts and talents. One’s participation in the Christian life, growing in relationship with God and others, will help us to recognize who God is calling us to be. In a culture that promotes freedom, we never truly commit to something that will allow us to enter more deeply into the mystery of God, self, or other. A response to a vocation is the freedom of saying “I do” to God.
- Prayer: Prayer is central to discernment. Therefore, if you are questioning whether you may be called to the priesthood and/or to religious life, a regimen of daily Mass, frequent confession, and private personal prayer can help you to hear God’s voice more clearly.
- Conversation: God communicates to us not only through prayer, but also through conversation. You are most welcome to talk to a Norbertine about your discernment. To speak with a member of St. Norbert Abbey’s vocations team, call 920.337.4333 or e-mail email@example.com.
- Visit: Join the Norbertine Community of St. Norbert Abbey for daily Mass or Liturgy of the Hours, join us for a retreat, or simply request a tour of the abbey.
It’s good to struggle in discovering one’s vocation in the discernment process—it means you’re taking your vocation seriously in coming to understand where God is calling you. Like a call to religious life or priesthood, a call to marriage is a surrender of self to another. It’s an invitation from God. A good priest should also make a good husband and father, but not all of us are called to such a life. Some are called to be imitators of Christ’s life of celibacy. Through discernment it’s important to take steps to recognize one’s strengths and weaknesses in order to understand if one can live a life rooted in poverty, chastity, and obedience. If torn between vocations, seek out mentors, read, pray, and volunteer.
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta has said, “God may never give us clarity, all we can do is trust.” A vocation is about a total surrender of self to God and others—it’s a deep faith and trust in God. Life presents moments of joy and moments of sorrow. We all have good days and bad days, but the question that should be asked is: where’s God in all of this? A vocation isn’t easy. It’s meant to be challenging. But through prayer and discernment, one comes to discover God’s presence in one’s life—in one’s vocation. One should pray not only for clarity, but also courage.
That’s ok! It seems that the reality of the way human beings experience God’s call is through a mix of emotions that includes moments of great certainty and peace as well as moments of doubt and apprehension. If you think about it, Scripture is full of examples where people doubted God’s call in their lives.
Moses tried to get out of the mission God had planned for him by asking God to send someone else because Moses doubted his gift of public speaking (Ex. 4:10-17).
And think of St. Joseph when he wanted to secretly divorce Mary because he didn’t think he would be able to handle the scandal of taking Mary to be his wife after he found out about her pregnancy. Joseph doubted until an angel came to him in a dream (Mt. 1:18-25).
Or think about the famous story of Thomas “doubting” his friend’s witness testimonies regarding the Risen Jesus (Jn. 20:24-29).
In all of these examples, great figures in our faith had moments of doubt or anxiety about the task God was asking them to do. Yet, each of these men kept an open mind and a deep trust in the Lord. In our own moments of doubt, we are asked to do the same—to keep an open mind and a deep trust in the Lord. That’s all we can do…and for the Lord, that’s enough.
It’s hard to say that anything is “typical” given the great needs of the local Church. However, Norbertines of St. Norbert Abbey are very committed to our common life and daily prayer, along with our ministerial responsibilities.
So, each morning Norbertines gather in the choir stalls within the St. Norbert Abbey church to sing Morning Prayer (Lauds). After that, the guys head off to their respective ministry assignments with varied responsibilities.
Men who are home at Noon gather in the chapter room for a few quiet moments of prayer. As the abbey bells mark the noon hour, the community prays the Angelus, followed by Midday Prayer. Then we return to our daily tasks.
During the week, at the end of the afternoon, we gather for Mass—celebrating the “source and summit” of our faith. Following Mass, we move into Evening Prayer (Vespers). In this way, we can reflect upon the day’s events and bring the petitions and needs to the Lord in prayer, thankful for the many experiences of the day.
Following the evening rites, we gather in the community room for some sharing and fraternity before we move to the dining room for dinner.
Of course, there are always events and responsibilities that can take us away from this routine. For many of us, however, when we’re absent from these important moments with our community members, it feels as though something is missing. Our common prayer schedule is truly the heartbeat of our community and is what gives us the dedication to continue to serve the local Church in Jesus’ name.
As Norbertines of St. Norbert Abbey, we have made a commitment to community life, and community is an important part of our lives.
Community life is about more than just living together. Through our common prayer, we are able to pray with and for one another, especially through difficult times, such as sickness or struggle.
Our common prayer also continues when we gather at Mass together. Here we are transformed and energized to carry the mission of Jesus Christ into the world through our various ministries.
Finally, our common life includes our dining together at meal times. It is at meals that many stories are shared of the day or of years past, and thus we are able to more fully connect with each other and unwind after a day full of ministry, only to be re-energized for another day of service to the good and holy people of God.
Maybe?! To follow Jesus closely (in any vocation) can be challenging, but it’s always life-giving. Many people voice their feelings of unbelief when they find out that vowed religious men and women take vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience. That seems crazy in a world that values wealth, promiscuity, and independence. So, the short answer may be: yes, you are “crazy,” but Jesus calls us into this crazy life, together. And, despite the craziness of it all, still asks us to love and pray for everyone.
Just be as honest with your parents as possible. Share your hopes, ideas, and concerns about potentially joining religious life. Invite them to do the same. Let them know that they are most welcome to visit St. Norbert Abbey and become acquainted with the community.
However, during your first year of the novitiate, there will be a brief period of time where contact with family and friends is limited. Other than this brief period during the novitiate, families are most welcome to be a part of Norbertine life. Members of the Norbertine vocations team will find ample opportunities to meet with the parents of men in formation, as well as the Norbertine Community of St. Norbert Abbey as a whole.
We’ll help in every possible way to the best of our ability to orient parents regarding their son’s religious discernment. A strong relationship between the community and families of origin lasts throughout the Norbertine’s lifetime in the order.
One of the first opportunities is additional study. Initial formation includes studying the history of the order, the lives of St. Norbert and St. Augustine, as well as becoming accustomed to a regular prayer life—both communally and personally. Graduate level study includes necessary course work in philosophy and theology as required for priestly formation.
Ministry opportunities include service at Norbertine parishes, as well as Notre Dame Academy and St. Norbert College.
Our men in formation, active ministry, and retirement continue to serve in a variety of capacities both inside and outside the abbey.
We don’t exclude men from our community based on issues of nationality. However, we only admit into our community those who are legally-documented citizens. Distance from the United States also prohibits men from engaging in the fraternal life of the community—an engagement that’s absolutely required in order for us to gain “right relationship” with the community.
We do accept into our community those men who have spent time in other religious communities or a diocesan seminary program. Before a candidate applies to our community, however, a character reference or letter of recommendation is needed from a major superior or the seminary rector of the previous organization.
In recent years, those who have entered our community have done so just after graduation from college or shortly thereafter. As such, there is a certain degree of cohesion that is celebrated within our formation community. Normally we would accept young men ages 18-40, and we do have the resources to allow for a certain degree of flexibility in dealing with a diversity of backgrounds and cultures.
As stated above, typically one is admitted into the Norbertine Order after graduation from college. In some circumstances men are admitted earlier, but competency in academic studies must be proven. Participation in our formation program for priesthood candidates and for Norbertine brotherhood requires advanced schooling in various disciplines. Previous successful academic performance will indicate ability for the candidate to prosper in the formation program.
Before one enters the Norbertine Community of St. Norbert Abbey, he’ll be asked to dispose of personal property, which may aid in the reduction of personal debt. It’s hoped that such debt will be cleared before entrance into the formation program. However, some financial debt (such as academic debt) will be accommodated by the order. Should one exit the Norbertine formation program, it’s expected that he will remunerate the order for such payment.
Before you submit an application to join the Norbertine Order, it is assumed that a relationship has been formed with us. Typically you would be involved in at least one year of discernment in dialogue with the Norbertine Vocations Team. If you are seriously contemplating joining the order, a spiritual director will be provided.
Ideally, discernment will include attending a retreat at St. Norbert Abbey in De Pere, Wisconsin: a vocation retreat, a personal retreat, the annual Triduum retreat, or all of the above. As your relationship with the community deepens, a member of the Norbertine vocations team will arrange for you to meet with the Norbertine formation director, the prior of the community, and the abbot. At the same time, we will introduce you to various Norbertines including fraters and brothers currently studying in the formation program.
If there is a feeling of mutual comfort between us, you may request an application to join our way of life. The application process (which often takes six months to complete) requires the following information:
- application form
- personal spiritual autobiography
- three personal or character references
- academic transcripts
- sacramental registry
- comprehensive psychological and physical examination and evaluation provided by the Norbertine Order
Once completed, these materials are forwarded to the abbot and his council for approval.
To begin this process, we ask that you complete a Norbertine background information form, available by contacting vocation director Fr. Michael Brennan, O. Praem.: 920.403.3012 or firstname.lastname@example.org.