Inside 1016: Radical Hospitality, Growing Numbers Drive Significant Renovation

As seen in the Fall/Winter 2017 issue of Abbey Magazine (pages 8-9)

By Katrina Marshall, Gina Sanders Larsen, and Judy Turba

Ever Ancient, Ever New

From the outside looking in, St. Norbert Abbey seems timeless: the stone exterior, slate roof, 160 acres of natural and landscaped beauty, and the shining cross atop the iconic bell towerever ancient.

Yet within the walls of the abbey considerable activity is taking place: a massive renovation to meet the growing number entering the doors of the abbey and Norbertine Center for Spirituality; an unused space transformed into a state-of-the-art communication center; and a recently launched podcastever new.

Take a look inside 1016.

Like Norbertines who moved in during the abbey construction of the 1950s (left), Abbot Gary Neville, O. Praem. (right), and Fr. James Baraniak, O. Praem., survey the current renovation site.

In 1959 the abbey was built as a home for professed members of the Norbertine Order and as a seminary for educating new Norbertines. The place was built for male religious; the laity were restricted to the abbey church and refectory (dining room) on special occasions. The average age of death at that time was 59, and as Abbot Sylvester Killeen, O. Praem., once remarked, “There’s no need for elevators for men that age.”

With changes in the Church brought about by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and a decline in religious vocations, the rooms in the juniorate wing (northeast wing of the abbey complex) were no longer needed. In 1979, from these rooms the Norbertine Center for Spirituality (NCS)—originally known as the Ministry and Life Center—was created, thus opening the building to the laity for retreats and religious conferences. But little thought was given to what changes would be necessary as these programs grew.

Today the NCS hosts hundreds of events per year, including large multi-day retreats and popular programming that regularly fills the gathering spaces. Further, as the building is at capacity with the number of Norbertine residents, and given the frequency of Norbertine vestitions, professions, and ordinations, it became apparent that improvements to the abbey’s physical space were needed. In keeping with the Norbertine charism of radical hospitality, easier accessibility to the abbey for people of all abilities, an elevator to the second floor for retreatants, more restrooms for women, and a large gathering space for special functions were high on the list.

After careful planning and the offer of generous support from an anonymous donor, the Norbertines broke ground on a massive renovation project in summer 2017. Visitors will see the northeast corner of the abbey has been demolished, beginning the year-long process of converting it into a new entrance for the NCS and north side of the abbey, along with a reception hall, gallery, and easy elevator accessibility. The former sun deck will be converted into a conference room with offices, restrooms, and a small kitchen. The former swimming pool area will be converted into a large conference room.

These changes to the abbey will assure better spaces for the NCS, greater security for Norbertines and staff, more privacy as required for a religious house, and better stewardship of abbey complex usage … and all of this without changing the basic footprint of the building. As the Norbertine mission remains ancient and rooted in faith and tradition, their space is renewed.

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