St. Norbert Abbey

The Joys of Religious Life

December 20, 2019

By Fr. Stephen James Rossey, O. Praem.

Fr. Stephen Rossey, O. Praem.
Fr. Stephen Rossey, O. Praem.

Sr. Joan Chittister, O.S.B., in her 2017 book Radical Spirit, suggests that communio in religious life is built on relationships, not on simply living alone together. In my 66 years of religious life, I have found this to be true. I’m sure Saints Norbert and Augustine, whose Rule of Life we follow, would whole-heartedly agree. 

In my lifetime in our Order, I’ve had the privilege of living in each of our houses for extended periods of time. Sharing experiences, revealing one’s own inmost thoughts, being provided the best education to utilize one’s talents, traveling to see and experience what one has spent a lifetime teaching about, are but a few of the joys I have been afforded. And all of these pluses of common life did not begin with me, nor end with me. Happiness is about relationships, interdependence, empathy, and care and concern about the well-being of others. 

Left to right: Fr. Salvatore Cuccia, O. Praem., Fr. Xavier Colavechio, O. Praem., and Fr. Stephen Rossey, O. Praem.
Left to right: Fr. Salvatore Cuccia, O. Praem., Fr. Xavier Colavechio, O. Praem., and Fr. Stephen Rossey, O. Praem.

I have counted so many good men as brothers. Tom Hagendorf entered the order at Daylesford in 1955 and came to De Pere after his simple profession to complete college and study theology. We became immediate friends after a trip to our camp in the northwoods where he learned about rustic living after his youth in the asphalt and concrete jungle of South Philadelphia. Sal Cuccia, from our parish in Madison, joined the order in 1958; the same year I professed solemn vows. We bonded quickly over our mutual esteem for cooking and all things Italian. Xave Colavechio, a couple of years ahead of me in the Order, studied theology in Rome and became well-acquainted with the Order’s houses in Europe. We often traveled to Europe together to acquaint Norbertine Associates, college faculty, friends, and confrères with Norbertine customs and traditions. After my return to the abbey in 1984 from my teaching position at Archmere Academy in Delaware, Bart Agar another Easterner, took over the liturgy at the abbey and we spent hours planning liturgies and recalling our times together at the old abbey, teaching in Philadelphia, relaxing at our retreat on Lake Michigan, and daily chit-chats at breakfast with Abbot Tremel. One really never has to be alone in religious life.

“I attribute my length of days and happiness to the joy and gladness of heart I have found in my vocation.”

Consecrated celibacy has given me the ability to share my inmost life with others; poverty has afforded me the opportunity to share my talents with a wider audience than myself; and obedience has made me accountable for my choices and actions. In this process of self-discovery I found that we are all too human. We all have with our warts and foibles; but even with these, I have the ability to laugh at myself and with others, and this makes for a most joyful, satisfying life. 

Sirach writes, “Gladness of heart is life; joy is what gives length of days.” (Eccles. 30:22-23.) I attribute my length of days and happiness to the joy and gladness of heart I have found in my vocation, the apostolate of teaching, and living in common with like-minded giving confrères who help me along the way.

Colleague + Friend

Lessons on Virtuous Friendship from Dr. Paul Wadell

As seen in the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Abbey Magazine (page 10)

By Fr. James Neilson, O. Praem.

Dr. Paul Wadell (left) and Fr. James Neilson, O. Praem.

Dr. Paul Wadell (left) and Fr. James Neilson, O. Praem.

Maybe it was his smooth Kentucky accent or the fact that he greeted, by name, every student who walked into class. I immediately knew my time spent with Dr. Paul Wadell as a grad student at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago was going to be as enjoyable as it was instructive.

In a course referencing his own book, Friendship and the Moral Life, Paul’s class was more like an invigorating retreat with a group of friends than a series of lectures in a room of strangers. Exalting the virtues as essential components of true friendship, Paul revealed a glorious truth: Being in right relationship with others, cultivating and maintaining a circle of good friends, is nothing less than the very dream of God for each and every one of us.

He modeled for us in our teacher-student relationship the virtues to espouse in our own friendships:

Friendship and the Moral LifeGenerosity

Paul clearly spent a great deal of time in preparing his classroom lectures. They were always rich in facts, personal insights applicable to everyday life, and wonderfully articulated in the most conversational tone. Our lectures were conversations with and among friends.


Paul received us in an atmosphere that valued spiritual understanding and wisdom. We learned that cultivating genuine and deep friendships facilitates the growth and development of the spirit.


Paul invited us to consider a variety of ideas and insights by way of many voices. His recommended reading list was an introduction to new friends; that is, authors we might never know personally, but would know via their writings. Sharing books, authors, works of art, and artists with new and old friends, with colleagues and students, is a lesson in friendship I practice to this day.

I find a wealth of virtuous friendships at my home, St. Norbert Abbey. As confreres, we share intellectual pursuits, mutual respect, collaboration in liturgical celebrations, and warm and inviting conversations at table. Together we believe God’s triune nature is an experience of mutuality. Therefore, as those created in the image and likeness of God, we enjoy a natural orientation toward being in mutual relationship with others. In our friendships we strive to mirror on earth what we believe is the very reflection of God’s own and true self. Today my professor is my colleague at St. Norbert College. I count him as one of the single most influential educators in my life. And I treasure him as a friend.

Paul Wadell, Ph.D., is a professor of theology and religious studies at St. Norbert College. Read his America magazine article, “Not Settling for Less,” which started as a presentation for The Conrad J. Kratz, O. Praem. Abbey Lecture Series at the Norbertine Center for Spirituality in 2014. He also has contributed to Abbey Magazinesee page 12 of the Spring/Summer 2016 issue for his thoughts on “A Ministry of Mercy.”

Fr. James Neilson, O. Praem., is a priest, artist, and teacher. He is an assistant professor of art at St. Norbert College. Read more about his varied ministries.

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