The Habit: An Outward Sign of Inward Spirit

As seen in the Spring/Summer 2016 issue of Abbey Magazine (page 14)

An interview with Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem.
By Gina Sanders Larsen

Managing Editor, Abbey Magazine

Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem., wears his habit on the streets of Chicago.
Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem., wears his habit on the streets of Chicago.

During a recent academic break, I sat with Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem., 26, to discuss a seemingly simple idea—whether or not to wear the ankle-length white habit of the Norbertines when he is out in public in Chicago, the city where he studies for the priesthood at Catholic Theological Union.

What is it like wearing a habit in a secular environment?

The most important thing is that when you are wearing the habit, everything you do reflects not only on you, but also on every Norbertine. The habit elicits a lot of emotion, both good and bad, yet it expresses my Christian faith and vocation. Am I hiding it, or am I on fire? It’s an outward sign of inward spirit.

Tell me more about that phrase, “an outward sign of inward spirit.”

If I choose not to wear the habit, I am choosing to blend in. In the streets, the white habit is a visible witness to Christ. It’s like when Jesus called himself “the door” and no one can come to the Father except through Him. I am certainly not Jesus, but I choose to be present and visible to people. At times some religious or priests hide behind a collar or habit. You have to remember that what counts is a person’s true character, and no article of clothing can change that. For me, the habit is a call to authenticity.

You said the habit elicits both good and bad responses from people. Can you give me some examples?

People often ask me, “What are you?” and I tell them I’m a Christian in formation for the Catholic priesthood. Many people ask me to pray for them, or they are intrigued by the idea of a priest. I’ve helped people who need a bus ticket or something to eat, but I’ve also provoked feelings of hatred. It is an imitation of Christ: trying to do good but realizing even the Son of God was not accepted by all.

Will you continue to wear your habit in public?

Yes. Even for people who do not approach me, wearing the habit shows them that someone is still interested in Christianity and Catholicism in a secular world. I hope that in wearing the habit, it is a visible sign of Christ in me and through me, and that it fosters Christian hope in a city plagued by poverty, violence, and racism. I am putting myself out there—humbly, I hope. The streets have a way of keeping you humble.

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Canons on the RunCanons on the Run

Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem., and Frater Johnathan Turba, O. Praem., are co-hosts of St. Norbert Abbey’s biweekly podcast, Canons on the Run. In episode 008, compellingly and with a bit of humor, they discuss their habit, the conversations that have occurred because of it, and their continual witness to God’s call.

Listen now »

Rev. Robert Matthew Feller, O. Praem.

December 28, 1922 – February 8, 2016

As seen in the Spring/Summer 2016 issue of Abbey Magazine (page 17)

Fr. Robert Feller, O. Praem.
Fr. Robert Feller, O. Praem.

Fr. Feller was born on December 28, 1922, in Green Bay, Wisconsin. His home parish was Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church.

After graduating from West High School in 1942, Fr. Feller received a B.A. degree in philosophy from St. Norbert College, De Pere, in 1952.

Upon entering the Norbertine Community of St. Norbert Abbey, Fr. Feller was vested as a novice on August 28, 1949. He professed Simple Vows on August 28, 1951, professed Solemn Vows on August 28, 1954, and was ordained to the priesthood on June 4, 1955.

In 1954 Fr. Feller began teaching assignments at St. Norbert High School, De Pere. His parochial and chaplaincy ministry included numerous pastorates in the Green Bay area. A military chaplain in the United States Air Force, Fr. Feller also served as director of pastoral services and chaplain at St. Mary’s Hospital Medical Center in Green Bay for many years. He was chaplain at Veterans Administration Medical Center and Veterans Administration Hospital, Tuskegee, Alabama, from 1983 until 1993.

Although retiring from external ministerial duties in 2001, Fr. Feller continued internal ministry at St. Norbert Abbey, ministering to his Norbertine confreres and abbey employees with any number of charitable acts of kindness. In a spirit of gratitude and thanksgiving, Fr. Feller celebrated the 60th anniversary of his priesthood ordination on June 5, 2015.