By Kris Leonhardt
DE PERE – “From Fr. Pennings — who would later become Abbot Pennings — teaching Latin to the very first SNC students, to the admission of women more than 70 years ago, to the Class of 2027 welcomed several weeks ago … ours is an institution that has adapted to changing circumstances, while remaining centered in our Catholic, Norbertine and liberal arts mission. Resilience is in our DNA, as reflected in the 900-year-old Norbertine heritage and our own 125-year history as a well-respected educational institution,” said St. Norbert College President Laurie Joyner.
The statement caps off a 125-year history that started with Norbert of Xanten and led to a private liberal arts college offering more than 80 programs of study.
According to the SNC course on St. Norbert, “After his horse was startled by a lightning bolt, the young nobleman Norbert of Xanten was thrown to the ground. He awoke with a vision that led him to renounce his appointment at high court, give away his wealth and set out to preach peace, reconciliation and church reform. He left a legacy that, within a century, would spread internationally, with hundreds of abbeys established from Ireland to the Holy Land.”
At the invitation of northern France Diocese of Laon bishop, in northern France, Father Norbert later founded a monastery of priests in a remote part of the diocese called Premontre.
The Premonstratensians, or Norbertines, sent two priests, along with a Holland monk, to staff Belgian-speaking parishes in northeastern Wisconsin in November 1893.
A group of priests later moved from the Door County area to De Pere.
Father Bernard Pennings, who would become Abbot Pennings, traveled to Europe in 1898 and brought back plans for advancement.
Green Bay Weekly Gazette signaled their arrival in July 1898, “Father Pennings brought with him two fathers, two deacons and two brothers of the order of Premonstratensian and will establish a monastery in the diocese. He is now located at Delwich, where four fathers are now. This new body will be an enlargement of the order in the diocese. The exact location of the monastery will be announced later.”
A September 1898 article clarified their plans.
“The Rev. fathers, who will now establish their principal home at De Pere, belong to the Abbey of Aleeswh (formerly Berne) in Holland, and came to this country about four years ago to work the Belgian parishes and missions of the diocese of Green Bay, a missionary work which they will continue,” the article stated.
“In a course of time, a large monastery of the order will be erected on the beautiful spot near St. Joseph’s overlooking the Fox River.”
The following month the fathers were incorporated as the Premonstratensian Fathers of the city of De Pere.
“The incorporators are Rev. B Pennings, Rev. L. Broens and Rev. C. Mickers. These are the three priests who came from Holland for the purpose of establishing the order,” a Press-Gazette article read.
“The object of the Premonstratensian Fathers as set forth in the articles of incorporation is to establish churches, seminaries, schools and colleges in the state of Wisconsin.”
The fathers soon began a college to train young men for the priesthood.
Seeing a general need for higher education in northeast Wisconsin, St. Nobert College began a commerce program for lay students.
The 1900 school year — its second year — saw a new dormitory added for “outside scholars,” with a total student body of 25.
Continued in next week’s edition