On Christmas Day, 1121, after spending a year in prayer and meditation, Norbert and his followers made their first profession of vows, thus founding the Canons Regular of Premontre, also known as the Premonstratensians or Norbertines. The men and women vowed to seek Christ by living in common, sharing all things in holy poverty, and dedicating themselves to ministering to God’s People. Norbert held up the example of the first Christians gathered around Mary, whose community life, as described in Acts 2: 42-47, was marked by the power of the Spirit, the sharing of all things and the desire to serve others. Norbert’s dream continues to find expression almost 900 years later in the lives and ministries of his followers throughout the world, imitating the Jerusalem Christian community in a life “ever ancient, ever new.”
FROM PREMONTRE TO DEPERE AND BEYOND
Throughout and beyond its 875 year existence, Norbertine abbeys, priories and convents have been established throughout the world in Holland, Belgium, France, Germany, Austria, England, Ireland, Scotland, Denmark, Canada, Brazil, Chile, South Africa, Australia, India, Peru, Zaire, and the United States. A number of abbeys once existing behind the Iron Curtain were physically suppressed by the communist governments. Today those properties are being returned to the Order and the Norbertine presence is being felt in those territories once again.
The earliest foundation attempts in the United States date back to 1842 when Norbertines from Wilten Abbey in Innsbruck, Austria did considerable apostolic work in the southwestern part of Wisconsin. Suppression of religious orders in the home country caused this pioneer band of Wisconsin Norbertines to die out about 1890.
The first permanent foundation in Wisconsin, in fact, in the United States, was made by Father Bernard H. Pennings, O. Praem. (who would later become the first Norbertine Abbot in America) who had come to the so-called “Belgium Peninsula” in 1893 from Berne Abbey in Holland. Five years later, Father Pennings established St. Norbert Priory and St. Norbert College in West De Pere, Wisconsin. The Priory was raised to the status of an Abbey in 1925. Abbot Pennings served as the first Abbot until his death on March 17, 1955, at the age of 93.
In 1963 the Norbertines of Saint Norbert Abbey opened a mission in Lima, Peru. Also in 1963, Our Lady of Daylesford Priory in Paoli, Pennsylvania was recognized as the daughter Abbey of DePere. In 1997 it became two distinct canonries headquartered in Paoli, PA and Claymont, DE. In 1985, a new foundation entitled Santa Maria de la Vid Priory was begun in Albuquerque, New Mexico with Norbertines ministering among the Hispanic and Native American populations there. In 1990 another foundation, this house under the patronage of Saint Moses the Black, was established in Jackson, Mississippi where the Norbertines are serving the spiritual needs of Black Americans among others.
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