Darkness & Light

Reflections on St. Norbert Abbey from Dianne Wagner

As seen in the Fall/Winter 2016 issue of Abbey Magazine

By Katrina Marshall

On November 12, 2016, Dianne made her commitment as a Norbertine Associate of St. Norbert Abbey.

Dianne Wagner
Dianne Wagner

Throughout her lifetime Dianne Wagner has always felt the Norbertine influence. In 1936 her parents worked at WTAQ, one of the Norbertine radio stations located in downtown Green Bay’s Bellin building, assisting her uncle, Fr. James Wagner, O. Praem., who was manager at the time. Dianne was born into St. Willebrord Parish and studied at St. Norbert College, where she later served as alumni director.

“From my youth I always had a yearning for something I didn’t even have a word for: spirituality. As I grew older I became active as much as I was allowed in the various parishes I attended. It still wasn’t enough.”

Eventually, due to personal crises, Dianne admitted that she felt abandoned by God. “I was in a very dark place and questioned all that I had believed in and accomplished.”

After leaving the Catholic Church and being away from De Pere on and off for 30 years, Dianne decided to move back permanently.

“I came home confused spiritually—a bit wounded and at times wondering if God even existed. I needed a refuge. St. Norbert Abbey became a safe place to ask questions without judgment or condemnation. By sharing these feelings with priests I had grown close to, I realized that all of this was a normal part of growing spiritually and that I wasn’t the first to have these questions. I think it was the ‘restlessness’ that St. Augustine shared with his followers.”

Dianne explained that the liturgies at the abbey have connected her with the Church of her childhood, and yet also provide a place for her as an adult to continue to grow spiritually.

“Music has always been an important part of my spiritual life. I was able to cantor at the abbey years ago. For me, it’s the most fulfilling way to pray. Here I feel blessed to be able to join the Norbertines in their daily prayers. The Magnificat brings back my childhood devotion to Mary. She becomes real to me again. And at Sunday Eucharist the Abbey Singers of St. Norbert College perform not only Latin hymns of the past, but also newly composed hymns of today: ‘ever ancient, ever new.’ ”

Easter Vigil in the Holy Night at St. Norbert Abbey
Easter Vigil in the Holy Night at St. Norbert Abbey

Dianne’s favorite liturgy at the abbey is the Easter Vigil.

“Sitting quietly in the darkness, meditating on the crucifixion, when suddenly the darkness is lit up by a fiery torch, accompanied by the pealing of the abbey bells and the joyful singing of the choir is an incredible spiritual experience.”

For Dianne, the abbey is a place of healing and inclusiveness where all are welcome to share in the blessed life of the Church.

“The abbey—the church, the liturgy, the Norbertine Center for Spirituality, and most of all the priests who have given me loving compassion and support—all became a haven for my heart and spiritual growth, which continues today.”