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Why Fr. Peter Ambting, O. Praem., Chose Norbertine Life

By Fr. Peter Ambting, O. Praem.

When I first started thinking about priesthood as a young man, I contacted the Norbertines, because their way of life, balancing action and contemplation—all while serving the local community, attracted me.

However, I eventually joined the seminary for the Archdiocese of Utrecht, Netherlands, my home country. Looking back, I think this was primarily a school choice, not looking beyond my education. While I am glad of the seminary I chose, after I earned my degree and was ordained and assigned, I started to miss the community life that I had in the seminary. To me the life as a diocesan priest was somewhat lonely and I started thinking about Norbertine life again. After a time of discernment, I left the diocese in 2017 and became a member of St. Norbert Abbey.

Community is what I was looking for and community is what I found.

—Fr. Peter Ambting, O. Praem.
Fr. Peter Ambting, O. Praem. (right), Fr. James Baraniak, O. Praem. (center), Fr. Michael Brennan, O. Praem. (left)

Fr. Peter Ambting, O. Praem. (right), Fr. James Baraniak, O. Praem. (center), Fr. Michael Brennan, O. Praem. (left)

I also appreciate the fact that within Norbertine life there is a variety of ministerial possibilities; while for a diocesan priest, parish life is the only ministry one can experience.

For me the main reason to join St. Norbert Abbey was community. Community is what I was looking for and community is what I found. During the abbey’s daytime schedule, there are several built-in community moments: Morning, Noon, and Evening Prayer, and also meals and recreation. I really appreciate these moments.

I was emotionally moved a couple of years ago when I was visiting the Abbey. It was during Vespers that the elderly and ill Norbertines received the anointing of the sick. An older Norbertine became emotional after community members laid their hands on his head as part of the ritual. Another Norbertine noticed the tears in his eyes, came out of his choir stall, laid a hand on his shoulders, and consoled him. To me, this is community: to be there for one another, in particular when you need one another.

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Podcast Episode 017: Walking on Holy Ground

Pictured: Ruins of Corinth, Greece

With special guest Fr. Michael Brennan, O. Praem.

“Messiness, beauty, complexity, and sacredness” are words used by special guest Fr. Michael Brennan, O. Praem., to describe not only the Holy Land, but also the Holy Ground on which each of us walks throughout our lives.

As Frater Johnathan Turba, O. Praem., listens attentively, Fr. Brennan and Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem., share their journey to the Holy Land and its influence on their understanding of Scripture and their faith.


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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.

Pictured: 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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