Norbertine Saints

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us. (Hebrews 12:1)
 

Our Norbertine Order has been blessed with many such witnesses throughout our nine-hundred-year history, saints and blesseds who now serve as our models and, more importantly, as our powerful intercessors in heaven. Following the order of the liturgical calendar, this great Premonstratensian cloud of witnesses includes:

All you holy Norbertine men and women, pray for us!

 

St. Godfrey, Priest—January 14th


Godfrey was born in 1097. His father was Count Godfrey of Cappenberg and his mother Beatrice of Schweinfurt. He married Jutta, daughter of the Count of Arnsberg. In a quarrel between the bishop of Münster and the emperor, Godfrey sided with the bishop. But when Münster was beleaguered and destroyed in 1121, Godfrey was deeply disillusioned, partly on account of the behavior of his own soldiers, and he decided to turn his castle into a monastery. He and his brother Otto met St. Norbert in the same year and Godfrey was deeply impressed by the apostolic life preached and lived by Norbert. In the beginning his wife Jutta and his brother Otto were opposed to his intentions. The greatest opposition, however, came from Godfrey’s father-in-law, the Count of Arnsberg. At a gathering in Utrecht Count Frederick of Swabia joined Godfrey who sold him two castles.

On May 31, 1122 Godfrey was able to give Norbert the castle of Cappenberg. The bishop of Münster blessed the monastery on August fifteenth of the same year. This was the first foundation of the Order in Germany. Additional provostries were founded on Godfrey’s properties in Varlar and Ilbenstadt. Neither of the brothers, however, could enter “their monasteries” until 1124 because they first had to fulfill their duties of defense and, in Godfrey’s case, obtain the consent of his wife Jutta. She later entered the monastery of canonesses in the lower monastery in Cappenberg. Godfrey stayed for the time being in Cappenberg where he founded a hospital for the poor and served the poorest with great humility.

Norbert called both brothers to Prémontré in 1125 and they were ordained acolytes. When Norbert became archbishop of Magdeburg he called Godfrey to his side in 1126. It was a great trial for Godfrey because he could not get used to life at the episcopal court and became ill. With the approval of Norbert he went to Ilbenstadt. A few days after his arrival he died on January 13, 1127, scarcely 30 years old.

Godfrey was a man of peace. During the altercation with his father-in-law he expressed his wish to die as a martyr. In the last months of his life he often expressed his wish to die. His relics were divided between Ilbenstadt and Cappenberg. Pope Paul V approved his veneration at Cappenberg in 1614 and Pope Benedict XIII extended it to the whole Order on March 8, 1728. After the sad times following the secularization, Emmanuel von Ketteler, bishop of Mainz, began promoting the veneration of Godfrey anew in 1862.

Prayer in honor of St. Godfrey

Almighty God, who strengthened St. Godfrey, so that,
despising everything he possessed, he might happily attain to you,
grant that we too, renouncing the riches of the world and its glory,
may find our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever. Amen.

In his stained-glass window in our abbey church, Godfrey is pictured with the crown of nobility which he rejected for the sake of Christ’s kingdom, with the skull of penitence recalling his severe trials and with one of the poorest of the poor whom he loved to serve so much. He is sometimes pictured with the angels he saw coming to greet him at the hour of his death.

 

St. Frederick, Abbot—February 4th


Frederick Feikone was the son of a poor widow from Hallum in Friesland. His priestly vocation was already noticed in his early years and his pastor gave him his first Latin instructions. He studied the liberal arts and the Holy Scriptures at Münster. Frederick had a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. John the Evangelist, and St. Cecilia. Returning from Münster, he became a teacher and was ordained a priest when he was old enough. He was appointed assistant priest to the pastor of Hallum whom he later succeeded.

Frederick wished to build a hospital and asked the bishop of Utrecht for permission to establish a monastery of canons after the death of his mother. Thereafter he went to the Norbertine abbey of Mariënweerd to learn about the monastic life. Afterwards he wandered through cities and villages to gather companions. In 1163 he built a monastery church dedicated to the Blessed Mother: “Mariëngaarde.” At first the priests and nuns lived in the same establishment but soon the sisters moved to Bethlehem. He then went to Steinfeld in order to join the foundation to the Norbertine Order. Frederick remained abbot, pastor of Hallum, and rector of Bethlehem all at the same time. A seminary for educating priests was attached to the abbey and became famous in a short time.

Frederick became ill while at the Norbertine convent of Bethlehem and returned to Hallum. In the church in which he had celebrated his first Mass he also celebrated his last. After the Mass he returned to the abbey to die. He said to his confreres, “Pray for me, because I could not care for the poor as much as I wished since the monastery was so poor.” He urged them to follow the Rule and assured them that he would never abandon his confreres as long as they would remain faithful. He died on March 3, 1175. So many miracles occurred at his grave that the church of Mariëngaarde became a much-visited pilgrimage site. In 1614, during the rule of the Calvinists in Friesland, Abbot Nicolas Chamart took his relics to Bonne-Espérance where they were entombed in the abbey church in 1616. During the French Revolution they were taken to Vellereille, and in 1938, during Abbot Bouvens’ term, to Leffe in Dinant. Pope Benedict XIII approved Frederick’s cult on January 22, 1728. His feast was transferred from the day of his death due to its frequent occurrence in the season of Lent.   

Prayer in honor of St. Frederick

Grant, we beseech you, Almighty God,
that poor in spirit in the example of your abbot St. Frederick,
we may imitate him who handed himself over for
the salvation of the world:
Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever. Amen.

In his stained-glass window in our abbey church, Frederick is pictured in the garb of an abbot, holding flowers which recall the beauty of Mariëngaarde and watching over a student educated by the Norbertine Fathers of today. He is sometimes shown holding the abbey he founded, and with the Blessed Virgin looking on, triumphing over the temptations of the devil who lies prostrate at his feet.

 

Blessed Hugh of Fosses, First Abbot of Prémontré—February 10th


Hugh was born in Fosses-la-Ville toward the end of the eleventh century . He became a cleric of the collegiate chapter of his hometown and later a court chaplain of Burchard, bishop of Cambray.

Hugh met St. Norbert in Valenciennes on March 26, 1119 and was so taken with his apostolic way of life that he decided to join him and became his first disciple.  When Norbert was taken under the wing of the bishop of Laon after the Council of Rheims in 1119 at the request of Pope Callistus II, Hugh joined Bishop Burchard at Cambray again. Two years later in 1121, after the founding of Prémontré, Hugh returned to Norbert’s side and was named the first prior of the young community and became the “right hand” of Norbert. After Norbert was appointed archbishop of Magdeburg in 1126, the confreres elected Hugh, at Norbert’s suggestion, to be the first abbot of Prémontré. He built the abbey church and the monastery. In order to preserve unity among the numerous foundations of Norbert he called the superiors of the various houses to a meeting out of which the General Chapter developed. He also compiled the first book of ceremonies with the liturgical directives of the Order and it is likely that he authored the ancient account of the life of St. Norbert known today as “Vita Norberti B”. Thanks to Hugh an organizational structure was created which made it possible for the Order to last for centuries and he is honored as the first Abbot General of the Order. He played an essential role in the inner strengthening and rapid flourishing of the Order. Under his guidance the number of the monasteries grew to one-hundred-twenty. As a superior Hugh was mild and humble of heart but also very persistent. For thirty-six years he was the father of his community and the guarantor of the unity of the Order. Hugh died on February 10, 1164 and was buried in the abbey church in front of the altar of St. Andrew. Under Abbot General Egidius Biervliet his remains were transferred to the front of the main altar in the abbey church in 1279. Abbot General Lescellier greatly embellished the tomb of Blessed Hugh in 1660.

After the suppression of Prémontré during the French Revolution his relics were transferred to Bassoles, then during WWI (from 1914 to 1918) they were kept in the cathedral of Laon, and from there taken to the sacristy of the church of Brancourt. Because Brancourt was heavily damaged in the bombardments, the bishop of Soissons asked Prior Franken of Bois-Seigneur-Isaac to take the relics into his care. In 1922 Blessed Hugh’s remains were solemnly transferred to Bois-Seigneur-Isaac where they rest to this day. Pope Pius XI confirmed the cult of Blessed Hugh on July 13, 1927.

Prayer in honor of Blessed Hugh

Almighty eternal God, who are always calling new men so that they might make your way known to others,
we humbly entreat you, through the merits and intercession of your abbot Blessed Hugh,
that by praying and working,
we may build up your people into one.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever. Amen.

In his stained-glass window in our abbey church, Hugh is pictured in the garb of an abbot holding his book of laws which governed the early life of the Order. He is sometimes shown holding the Cross which was at the heart of his penitential spirituality.

 

St. Evermode, Bishop—February 17th


Evermode was born in the Belgian province of Henegouwen around 1100. After hearing a sermon preached by St. Norbert, he was so struck by the personality and words of this apostolic man that he left everything to join him in 1120. He became one of the most loyal disciples of Norbert. He probably accompanied him to Antwerp and later to Magdeburg. He was probably ordained a priest by Norbert himself and was certainly present when Norbert transformed the collegiate chapter of Our Lady in Magdeburg into a community of the Order. Evermode remained Norbert’s companion until the latter’s death on June 6, 1134. Evermode stood by his master on his deathbed and later took care to see that Norbert was buried in the church of the Norbertine monastery of Our Lady in Magdeburg.

When Emelric, the provost of Gottesgnaden, undertook a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Evermode was named vice-provost and provisor of the community. Evermode was provost at Gottesgnaden from 1134 until 1138. He adhered to what Norbert considered the stricter rule of St. Augustine, the “ordo monasterii” and followed in Norbert’s footsteps in the areas of clerical reform and the conversion of the pagan Wends. After its first provost, Wigger, became bishop of Brandenburg, Evermode was elected provost of Our Lady at Magdeburg, a post he held from 1138 to 1154. In this function he founded the Norbertine monasteries of Havelberg, Jericho, Quedlinburg and Pöhlde.

When the diocese of Ratzeburg was reestablished in 1154 (it had been totally destroyed by the Wends in 1066), Evermode became its first bishop and converted the newly installed cathedral chapter into a Norbertine chapter. It was not easy for Evermode to be caught between the mighty Welf Prince Henry the Lion, prince of Bavaria and Saxony at the time, upon whom he was dependent both politically and financially, and Henry’s adversary, Archbishop Hartwig of Hamburg-Bremen, who claimed the rights of Metropolitan over Ratzeburg and was opposed in principle to bishops who were members of religious Orders. Consequently Evermode had himself consecrated bishop by Archbishop Arnolf of Mainz (probably on July 13, 1153). Prince Henry gave Evermode an island and castle for building the cathedral and monastery. Driven by the apostolic ideal, Evermode traveled throughout his diocese preaching the Word and became for his people a light of truth. The conversion of the pagan Wends, who were a majority in his diocese, was his first concern and he preached missions to them himself in Noorwegen and Holstein. Future generations, even among the Protestants, gave Evermode the titles “Light of the Saxons” and “Apostle of the Wends.” His diocese was well organized and the members of the cathedral chapter were confreres of the Order with the bishop as their provost. Old and weakened by his many labors, Evermode died as bishop of Ratzeburg on February 17, 1178 after an episcopate of 24 years. He was buried in the presbytery of the Romanesque cathedral of Ratzeburg. Pope Benedict XIII confirmed his cult on January 22, 1728.    

Prayer in honor of St. Evermode

Almighty eternal God, who made your bishop St. Evermode a companion of St. Norbert and a faithful minister of your house,
we pray that we too, standing firm in our purpose,
may be able to proclaim your glory. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever. Amen.

In his stained-glass window in our abbey church, Evermode is pictured with the regalia of a bishop, wiping away the tears of grief which he shed over the death of his beloved master St. Norbert. He is sometimes pictured in company with Saints Isfrid and Ludolph, Norbertine confreres who succeeded him as saintly bishops of Ratzeburg.

 

St. Ludolph, Bishop—April 26th


Ludolph was a Norbertine canon at the cathedral of Ratzeburg where for a time he held the office of provisor. He was elected bishop of Ratzeburg in 1236. He led such a strict religious life with his confreres in the shadow of the cathedral that his community was nicknamed the “prison of the Order.”

Like a good shepherd he focused all his energies on the care of souls. He preached and made pastoral visitations. The pope entrusted him with several political missions. Ludolph was forced to fight for the rights and freedom of the Church and his most difficult trial as bishop involved standing up to Prince Albert of Sachsen-Lauenburg, the “Bear of Saxony,” who took possession of properties belonging to the cathedral, an act which Ludolph resisted. The prince’s insults and threats would not intimidate him. Albert consequently ordered Ludolph thrown into the dungeon, where he had to suffer severe tortures. Realizing that his treatment of the bishop was unpopular, the prince decided to set Ludolph free. After his release from prison he was brought half dead to Prince John of Mecklenburg and taken to the Franciscans at Wismar where he died a few days later on March 29, 1250.

After his death numerous favors received were reported by those who visited his grave in the Cathedral of Ratzeburg. Ludolph is venerated as a “martyr for the freedom of the Church.” At the request of the confreres of Lorraine and Hohenburg, and the Procurator General Norbert Mattens, the centuries-old veneration of St. Ludolph was confirmed and extended to the whole Order by Pope Benedict XIII on April 12, 1728. The head of St. Ludolph was kept in the possession of the Norbertine nuns of Meer beginning in the seventeenth century. After the secularization of this convent the relic came into the possession of Karl Albert von Beyer, the last abbot of Hamborn, in 1826.  Abbot Von Beyer in turn bequeathed it to the abbey of Averbode in 1840. On August 30, 1970, St. Ludolph’s head was returned to Hamborn. On March 5, 1984, Bishop Wittler of Osnabrück was granted permission by the Congregation for Divine Worship for the public veneration of Saints Ludolph, Evermode and Isfrid in his diocese.

Prayer in honor of St. Ludolph

Lord God, who made St. Ludolph, bishop and martyr, a faithful herald of your name,
grant, we beseech you, that following in his footsteps,
we may persevere untiringly in preaching your gospel
to all and in building up the kingdom of your charity.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever. Amen.

In his stained-glass window in our abbey church, Ludolph is portrayed with the regalia of a bishop, bearing the shackles that bound him in prison and holding the palm of martyrdom. He is sometimes pictured with a soldier prone at his feet, symbolizing his struggle for the freedom of the Church from secular power.

 

Translation of the Relics of Our Holy Father St. Norbert—May 7th


St. Norbert’s canonization was formalized on July 28, 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII. The mortal remains of the saint, however, remained in the Church of Our Lady at Magdeburg which had fallen into the hands of the Protestants. Abbot General Despruets eagerly desired to remove the relics of the holy founder from Magdeburg and bring them to an abbey of the Order. The canons of Steinfeld made serious efforts to this end, but without success. In 1596 Abbot General Despruets wrote to Abbot Feyten of St. Michael’s Abbey in Antwerp and entreated him to do everything in his power to have the relics brought first to Antwerp, and eventually to the mother abbey of Prémontré as their final destination. Abbot Feyten, together with abbots Nicholas Chamart of Bonne-Espérance and Lohelius of Strahov, did everything in their power, but in vain. Thirty years passed without success.

Finally in 1625 Abbot Gaspar von Questemberg of Strahov, whose two brothers worked at the imperial court, was able to procure letters of authorization for the transfer from Emperor Ferdinand II. Abbot von Questemberg headed to Magdeburg, armed with three letters from His Majesty, one for the Lutheran canons, one for the provost of St. Mary’s Church and one for the senators of Magdeburg. He was able to enter the city but was nevertheless prevented from taking the relics with him. While the senators were well disposed to his plan, the provost stirred up a riot and von Questemberg was forced to return to Prague empty-handed. Encouraged by the offer of assistance from a noble count, he returned to Magdeburg escorted by forty men on horseback. While they began to make the initial preparations at the Church of Our Lady to remove the body, the canons set the people against them, and Abbot von Questemberg was once again forced to withdraw without success. After a victory of the imperial forces, the political tide was turning and the abbot set out for Magdeburg once again in July of 1626, but the Lutheran canons of Our Lady still continued to resist every effort to remove the body. A new defeat of the Protestant army finally overcame the resistance of the canons at Magdeburg. In order to forestall the possible indignation and reprisal of the victorious imperial camp, the senators of Magdeburg let Abbot von Questemberg know that he had full authority to transfer the body of Norbert. In November of 1626 he departed for Magdeburg in the company of Crispin Fuch, the provost of the Norbertine sisters of Doksany and his courageous assistant in this undertaking. On December 2, 1626 they arrived in the city and began their work the next day. The entire neighborhood of the Church of Our Lady was surrounded and guarded by a regiment of imperial soldiers. The abbot exhumed the relics from their place under the altar of the Holy Cross. The bones were intact and in their original position and the skin of the face and head was still fresh. Blood stains were found on the fringes of St. Norbert’s miter. Abbot von Questemberg reported that at one point during the examination of the relics the ring of St. Norbert slipped onto his finger of its own accord. He left the city without delay, escorted by the imperial troops, and brought the sarcophagus to the sisters of Doksany whose provost, Crispin Fuch, had assisted him with the transfer.

The princes and nobility of Bohemia decided to declare St. Norbert one of the patron saints of the kingdom and the bishop of Prague confirmed this declaration on April 30, 1627. The relics made their splendid entrance into the city of Prague on May 2, 1627, carried on the shoulders of eight abbots vested in pontifical attire in a solemn procession, accompanied by the religious and secular clergy, the dignitaries of the kingdom, and an immense throng of people. The sarcophagus was placed in the abbey church of Strahov and numerous miracles were reported during the eight day celebration of the translation, including the return to the faith of about six-hundred Protestants. Emperor Ferdinand, who was unable to be present for the translation, came exactly one year later on May 2, 1628, to honor St Norbert. The canonization and translation of Norbert were the catalysts for a spiritual renewal throughout the Norbertine Order, which experienced an astonishing renaissance over the next decades. The liturgical remembrance of the Translation of the Relics of St. Norbert is observed on May 7th, a day which fell within the solemn octave of the translation.                        

Prayer in honor of the translation of St. Norbert

Almighty eternal God, who allow us to celebrate the memorial of the translation of our Holy Father Norbert,
by his merits and prayers make us arrive joyfully at your kingdom.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever. Amen.

 

St. Herman Joseph, Priest—May 24th


Herman was born at Cologne around 1150. Already from his earliest childhood he manifested a tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin. The Vita, written by his prior, recounts that he went daily to pray in the church of St. Mary of the Capitol in Cologne. One day he offered an apple before the statue of the Virgin and Child. Mary bent down so that the Christ Child could reach it.

Herman was about twelve years old when he entered the Norbertine abbey of Steinfeld in the Eifel (located in the diocese of Cologne at the time, currently in the diocese of Aachen). He was sent to Mariëngaarde in Friesland for studies. Even as a young man he liked to practice strict penance. After his return to Steinfeld and his priestly ordination, he was appointed to serve in the sacristy and refectory. In these manual labors he developed an extraordinary spiritual life and received numerous mystical gifts. He received the surname “Joseph” on account of a vision in which the Blessed Virgin accepted him as her betrothed. His childlike piety and frequent ecstasies caused misunderstanding on the part of the confreres, some of whom regarded him as a simpleton. Herman Joseph was a model religious in the spirit of St. Augustine. He was humble and poor, and showed himself patient and friendly to everyone – especially to those who understood him the least. He was a model of obedience to his superiors and was always ready to serve his confreres.                    

Herman Joseph wrote several hymns in honor of the Blessed Mother, St. Ursula and her Companions, and a commentary on the “Song of Songs” (which has since been lost) – all in a style full of feeling, which demonstrated this deeply religious man’s genuine poetic talent. He is one of the first who expressly honored the Sacred Heart of Jesus in a genuinely mystical way based totally on the Holy Scripture. He was also acclaimed for his dexterity in making and repairing clocks. Herman Joseph was appointed spiritual director to the Cistercian nuns with whom he had regular contact. The nuns so prized his spiritual guidance that on one occasion they pretended that they needed their clock fixed – just so they could bring him to their convent again. During the final Lent of his life he was at the monastery of the Cistercian nuns in Hoven, a few miles from Steinfeld, where he fell gravely ill and died on the Thursday after Easter, April 4, 1241.

His body was returned to Steinfeld in a solemn procession on the Tuesday after Pentecost, several weeks after his death. It now rests in a raised tomb in the middle of the church. His veneration began immediately after his death with numerous miracles reported at his tomb. His prior wrote his Vita and devotion to Herman Joseph continued to grow uninterruptedly. On January 22, 1728, Pope Benedict XIII permitted his veneration and consecrated an altar in his honor in the “Collegio San Norberto” at Rome. His cult, which was alive for centuries, was formally recognized when Pope Pius XII gave Herman Joseph the title “Saint” on August 11, 1958. St. Herman-Joseph is venerated in the Rhine region and in the Norbertine Order as Patron of children and of students.

Prayer in honor of St. Herman Joseph

O God, who promised your kingdom to little children,
grant that, following in the path of St. Herman Joseph,
we may hasten cheerfully and humbly to heavenly joy.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever. Amen

In his stained-glass window in our abbey church, Herman Joseph is portrayed in priestly garb, holding the Christ child, the apple he gifted to Him, and white roses which recall his devotion to Mary, the “Mystical Rose.”

 

Our Holy Father St. Norbert, Bishop and Founder of Our Order—June 6th


Norbert of Gennep was born around 1080. He was a secular canon at St. Victor’s Collegiate Church in Xanten and was ordained subdeacon without making an effort to live the clerical life. Somewhere between 1108 and 1109 he became chaplain at the court of Archbishop Frederick of Cologne and already in 1110 he was a chaplain at the court of Emperor Henry V. He accompanied the latter to Rome in 1111 where there was great turmoil on account of the question of investiture. Norbert returned to Germany very troubled. In 1113 he declined to accept the diocese of Cambray from the emperor.

In the spring of 1115, while riding to the village of Freden, he was thrown from his horse during a sudden thunderstorm. This event gave Norbert the impetus to change his way of life. He gave up his chaplaincy at the court and dedicated himself to meditation, under the direction of Conon, the reform-minded abbot of Siegburg. Finally, in December 1115, he was ordained deacon and priest on the same day. Before the ordination he took off his expensive clothes and put on a humble sheepskin garment. Immediately after the ordination he returned to Siegburg where he spent forty days in prayer. He celebrated his first Mass at Xanten where he informed the canons of St. Victor that he had a reform of the community in mind. However, his fellow canons did not want to hear of it. Experiencing this rejection, Norbert withdrew and continued seeking advice from other reform-minded clerics, including a hermit named Ludolph, and the canons regular of Klosterrath at Rolduc.

After this he began his journey as a wandering preacher. Some admired his actions while others became perturbed and irritated. Norbert consequently had to justify himself at the Council of Fritzlar where he decided to relinquish everything and resign his canonical title and all his benefices. He then started to lead the life of a pilgrim. In St.Giles in Provence he was received in audience by Pope Gelasius II from whom he received permission to work as an itinerant preacher. During the winter he went barefoot to Valenciennes where two of his companions died of exhaustion and where he met Bishop Burchard of Cambray, his old friend at the imperial court. The chaplain of the bishop, Hugh of Fosse, was so impressed by Norbert that he asked to be allowed to join him. Norbert attended the Council of Rheims in 1119 where the new pope, Callixtus II, asked his nephew, Bishop Bartholomew of Laon, to take Norbert under his protection.

Norbert used this occasion to visit the famous cathedral school in Laon. At the request of the pope he agreed to reform the chapter of St. Martin. However, this attempt of his was as unsuccessful as that of a few years back in Xanten. The bishop recommended that he look for a place in his diocese where he could settle. He chose the solitary valley of Prémontré, even though he continued his preaching apostolate. On one such occasion, Evermode of Cambray and Anthony of Nivelles followed him. After a sermon in Laon, seven young men joined him. At Easter, 1120, they all settled in Prémontré where they now numbered fourteen. They chose the Rule of St. Augustine and considered themselves canons regular. On Christmas Day, 1121, thirty men professed their solemn vows. They promised to live according to the counsel of the apostles, inspired by the apostolic community of Jerusalem and they strove to adhere to the spirit of the Gregorian Reform. They chose white unbleached wool for their religious garment, instead of the usual black. Norbert justified this choice by the example of the angelic witnesses of the resurrection who were clothed in white. The celebration of the Mass was the center of the day. They had a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin who was chosen patroness of their church. Beside the canons, a great number of lay brothers and sisters lived at Prémontré. They took care of the hospice which Norbert established for the pilgrims and the poor. All these contributed to the reform of the Church.

Norbert appointed Hugh of Fosses prior of the community and continued his preaching journeys. Before Christmas of 1121, he went to Cologne to obtain relics for his new foundation. On his return journey he promised the Count of Namur to establish an abbey in Floreffe. In the year 1123, Norbert was in Westphalia where Count Godfrey of Cappenberg gave him his castle to establish a monastery. Cappenberg was to be the first Norbertine monastery in German territory. At the request of Burchard of Cambray, Norbert went to Antwerp to preach against Tanchelm. There he founded the abbey of St. Michael. In 1125 he made a pilgrimage to Rome where he received papal confirmation for eight monasteries.

 In 1126 the emperor called an Imperial Diet in Speyer to fill the vacant See of Magdeburg. Norbert was also invited. He was elected archbishop of Magdeburg and entered his episcopal city barefoot and in penitential attire on July 18, 1126, but as a bishop he had to make some adjustments to his way of life. In his new position he had to put an end to abuses and to nullify the illegal sales of church property. Norbert began the task without delay or hesitation. His priority was the reform of the clergy. He brought confreres from Prémontré to Magdeburg and entrusted them with the Church of Our Lady. He also founded Norbertine monasteries in Pöhlde and Gottesgnaden. As shepherd of a diocese on the frontier of a great mission territory, he geared his confreres toward the work of care for souls more than he had at Prémontré. During his eight years as bishop he could not accomplish all his plans. After his death his confreres continued to labor for the conversion of the pagan Wends.

In his last years he was engaged in political activities in the service of the Church and the emperor. He was instrumental in restoring the peace between Emperor Lothar III and Pope Innocent II. He proved himself a stout defender of Pope Innocent against the antipope Anacletus. As chancellor of the empire he accompanied Lothar to his coronation in Rome. After returning to Germany Norbert became seriously ill at Goslar in 1134. He was taken to Magdeburg where he lived another three months. He was able to bless the oils on Holy Thursday, but on Easter Sunday he could only celebrate the Mass sitting. The founder of the Norbertine Order, Norbert of Xanten, died June 6, 1134. He was buried in Magdeburg in the church of the Monastery of Our Lady at the altar of the Holy Cross. A few years later he was transferred to the choir. Pope Gregory XIII canonized him on July 28, 1582.

Prayer in honor of St. Norbert

O God, who made our Holy Father Norbert, your faithful pastor, an outstanding herald of your word
and through him have called many to a conversion of ways:
grant, we beseech you, that with the support of his merits and with your help,
we may imitate what he taught in word and in deed.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever. Amen.

In his stained-glass window in our abbey church, Norbert is pictured with the regalia of an archbishop including the double-runged pastoral staff and pallium around his neck. He holds the Eucharist and is often portrayed with the heretic Tanchelm at his feet, symbolizing the victory of his holiness over the errors of his day. The painting of Norbert’s Triumph (above, lower left) is the work of the prolific seventeenth-century Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens.

 

St. Isfrid, Bishop—June 15th


Isfrid was born around the year 1115 and later became a canon in the abbey of Cappenberg. In 1159 he became the first provost of Jerichow where he built a magnificent Romanesque church. At the urging of Prince Henry the Lion, of Bavaria and Saxony, the sons of St. Norbert in Magdeburg had turned their attention to the conversion of the pagan Wends. Through the intervention of Prince Henry, Isfrid was chosen as successor of St. Evermode, bishop of Ratzeburg, in 1178. He completed the erection of the cathedral begun under Evermode, and established many parishes. He also promoted the German colonization of the territory of the Wends. Toward himself he was inclined to be strict in penitential practices. Toward the rebellious Wends, however, he was a mild judge and attempted to convince and win them over through his preaching. In the year 1190 he visited the abbey of Floreffe and consecrated the seven altars of its church which had been destroyed by a fire. In the same year he also consecrated the Romanesque church of Postel, a daughter house of Floreffe.

In the struggle between the imperial party of the Staufs and the papal party of the Welfs, he sided, in spite of all threats and remonstrances, with the defeated Duke Henry of Saxony and Bavaria, to whom he once swore fealty. He remained the confessor and spiritual director of Henry the Lion to whom he ministered at his deathbed in 1195. Isfrid defended the rights of his people against the intrigues of Emperor Frederick and his vassal, Bernard of Anhalt.

Exalted through many miracles during his life and after death, he was a true light in a time of much darkness. Isfrid died on June 15, 1204 at 90 years of age and was buried in the presbyterium of the Cathedral of Ratzeburg next to St. Evermode. The fame of his sanctity spread and his cult was approved by Pope Benedict XIII on March 20, 1728. A memorial address by Arnold of Lübeck reads: “At that time, St. Isfrid of Ratzeburg died, a man of great patience, of greatest temperance, totally dedicated to religious practices. His influence extended far over the German Northeast. When the monastery of Floreffe at Namur was devastated by fire and the religious were dispersed in all directions for a year and a half, Isfrid called them back, restored the monastery and consecrated seven altars in one day.”

Prayer in honor of St. Isfrid

Almighty eternal God, your bishop St. Isfrid, refulgent with your assistance,
devoutly loved and strenuously defended your Church;
grant, we beseech you, that obedient to the holy gospel,
we may faithfully serve your people.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever. Amen.

In his stained-glass window in our abbey church, Isfrid is pictured with the regalia of a bishop, with a cup of water which he turned to wine and with a blind man whom he cured. He is sometimes pictured with the book of the Gospels which he preached so zealously to the people of his time.

 

Saints Adrian and James, Martyrs—July 9th


On July 9, 1572, the Calvinists hanged nineteen priests and religious in Gorcum on account of their loyalty to the Catholic faith. Among these were two sons of St. Norbert, Adrian and James. Adrian Jansen (sometimes called Becan after his place of birth) was born at Hilvarenbeek in 1529 and entered the abbey of Middelburg at the age of 15. After a stint as master of novices and chaplain, he was appointed pastor of Agterkerke in 1560 and of Munster in 1572. Adrian was an exemplary priest and a true apostle, laboring in a parish which already counted several Calvinists among its population.

James Lacoupe, also a canon of Middelburg, was born at Oudenaarde in 1542. He was an intelligent and charming young man whose success went to his head. His religious life was mediocre. When the iconoclastic Calvinists infiltrated the abbey in 1566, the 24-year-old James renounced his faith together with two others. His father and his brother, who was also a Norbertine, eventually brought him to reconsider. Touched by the grace of God, he returned to the abbey and was kindly received by the community when he asked forgiveness for his apostasy. Among other things, he had gone so far as to write a pamphlet attacking the Church, and had become a preacher of the Calvinist beliefs. His abbot sent him to the abbey of Mariënweerd for a prolonged period of penance. At the end of five years, the abbot appointed him curate in Munster where his brother was currently pastor. After the death of his brother in 1572, Father Adrian Jansen was appointed pastor. Adrian had only been there three months when revolutionary soldiers attacked the rectory and captured both priests in July of 1572. Together with seventeen other priests and religious, they were marched through the streets while beaten and insulted, accompanied by a screaming mob. Along the way the soldiers offered to set the priests free to some local fishermen in exchange for a cask of beer, an offer which the highly Calivnistic locals refused.

The nineteen priests and religious were thrown into prison and subjected to a trial during which they defended the doctrine of the Eucharist and the authority of the Successor of Peter. Although Adrian was more experienced in refuting the arguments of the heretics, it was now James, with his gift for speaking, who took the lead in arguing with their captors. They were mistreated, tortured, and denied food. On July 9, 1572, both Adrian and James, together with the other seventeen priests and religious, were hanged from the rafters of a barn at Gorcum and received the crown of martyrdom. Adrian was 43 and James 30. They were beatified by Pope Clement X on November 24, 1675 and canonized by Blessed Pius IX on June 29, 1877.     

Prayer in honor of Saints Adrian and James

Lord, our God, who caused your holy martyrs Adrian, James, and their companions to persevere to the end;
make us remain in you in faith and charity and
pursue the unity of the Church.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever. Amen.

In their stained-glass windows in our abbey church, Adrian and James are pictured with the hangman’s rope around their necks and the palm of martyrdom in their hands. Adrian holds the papal crown and keys, symbolizing his defense of the Roman Pontiff. James holds the chalice, symbolizing his defense of the doctrine of the Eucharist.

 

Blessed Hroznata, Martyr—July 14th


(celebrated on July 13th in the United States)

The Czech nobleman Hroznata was born around 1160. From his childhood on he experienced the special protection of the Mother of God. He received a good education at Cracow where his sister, Woyslawa, was the wife of the prefect of the city. He became well-versed in diplomacy, military science and economics. Hroznata married but soon lost his wife and young son. In place of a legal heir he founded the monastery of Teplá in 1193. When the papal legate encouraged the knights to participate in the crusades, Hroznata promised to go to the Holy Land in order to liberate the holy places. He made the journey with the crusaders to Brindisi and passed through Rome where the pope confirmed the foundation of Teplá. Since the crusade failed in 1197 the pope dispensed Hroznata from his vow concerning the crusades on his way back from Southern Italy and encouraged him to found a sister monastery for Teplá. Together with his widowed sister he established a cloister for nuns in Chotesov in 1202.

Hroznata felt the call to become a religious growing in his heart. He went to Rome again and was clothed by Pope Innocent III in the white habit of the Order. Hroznata became a lay brother in the monastery he founded. Because of his expertise in a variety of areas, Abbot John appointed him administrator of the monastery properties. But Hroznata experienced various difficulties with his abbot and eventually retired to Chotesov, where his sister lived, for the sake of peace. The difficulties were eventually resolved when the abbot admitted his mistake, and the confreres received the returning founder with open arms.

In 1217 Hroznata was captured and imprisoned by robbers while doing business for the abbey. Because he refused to allow the abbey to pay his ransom, his captors let him die of hunger in prison. After his death the confreres of Teplá were able to secure his body and buried it in the abbey church in front of the high altar. He is honored as a “saint” because of his love of neighbor, his humility and his martyrdom.  Pope Leo XIII beatified him on July 14, 1897. Pope John Paul II declared him patron of the newly erected diocese of Pilsen on March 3, 1997. The Order now looks forward to his canonization.

Prayer in honor of Blessed Hroznata

Lord God, who called your holy martyr Hroznata to be a follower of Christ crucified,
make us able, we beseech you,
to deny ourselves and so to enter
into the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever. Amen.

In his stained-glass window in our abbey church, Hroznata is pictured with the crown of nobility which he renounced for the sake of Christ’s kingdom, and with the palm of martyrdom, holding a church which recalls his foundation of the Abbey of Teplá.

 

Blessed Gertrude, Virgin—August 13th


Gertrude was the daughter of Count Louis of Thuringia and Hesse, and his wife, St. Elizabeth of Hungary. She was dedicated to God from the womb by her father as he prepared to depart for the Crusades in 1227. Louis offered the unborn child to the Premonstratensian canons of Rommersdorf if a boy, or the Premonstratensian canonesses of Altenberg near Wetzlar if a girl. Gertrude was born on September 29, 1227, a few weeks after Louis died in the Crusades. Her mother Elizabeth, who wished to devote the rest of her life to prayer and the service of the poor, kept her husband’s vow by entrusting Gertrude to Altenberg. Even though Elizabeth died within a few years of Gertrude’s birth, she was remembered by the community of Altenberg for her visits during which she spun wool with the sisters. The eight-year-old Gertrude was brought from Altenberg to Marburg to attend her mother’s canonization in May of 1235. Altenberg became prominent among the religious houses most active in promoting the cult of St. Elizabeth.

Gertrude received her entire education at Altenberg and became the third prioress of the monastery at age 24. Using her inheritance, Gertrude built the monastery church after the Gothic style of the church at Marburg. She also built a hospital and guesthouse for the poor, following the example of her mother who had demonstrated her love of Christ by caring for the poor and sick. While washing the sick Gertrude was reported to say: “How beautiful it is that we are allowed to bathe the Savior!” When Pope Urban IV renewed the call for a crusade, Gertrude became a zealous advocate of this endeavor. Together with her sisters and many noble ladies, she collected money for the outfitting of the crusaders.

When the feast of Corpus Christi was introduced to the universal Church by a Bull of Pope Urban IV in 1264, the new feast met with widespread resistance, remaining a dead letter for fifty years in many places, including Rome itself. Gertrude introduced the feast at Altenberg already in 1270 where it was celebrated with the greatest solemnity, thus becoming one of the first to introduce the new Eucharistic feast. In everyday life, Gertrude took care of the needs of the poorest, both in the hospital and the monastery. She had the gift of reconciling people upon whom she implored the Divine Mercy through penance and mortification. She was 69 years old when she died after a serious illness on August 13, 1297, having led her community for fifty years. She was buried in the monastery church of Altenberg. Pope Clement V granted indulgences on her day of death and allowed her veneration in 1311 (the authenticity of this Bull has been questioned by some). Her cult as a “Blessed” was definitively confirmed by Pope Benedict XIII on January 22, 1728. The Lutheran deaconesses who now inhabit the cloister of Altenberg retain a profound veneration for Blessed Gertrude to this day.     

Prayer in honor of Blessed Gertrude

Lord, our God, whose will the holy virgin Gertrude faithfully fulfilled,
grant that we, eagerly following her example, may experience you as our Father in heaven,
and your Son as our Brother accompanying us in our life.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever. Amen.

In her stained-glass window in our abbey church, Gertrude is portrayed with the crown of nobility, the pectoral cross of an abbess, and a monstrance recalling her devotion to the feast of Corpus Christi. The lion at her feet recalls a legend in which a lion escaped captivity in the castle of the local landgrave at a time when Gertrude was trying to reconcile two feuding Sisters. She caused the lion to obey and lie gently at her feet to shame the Sisters from whom she could not elicit the same gentle obedience.

 

Our Holy Father St. Augustine, Bishop—August 28th


Augustine was born on November 13, 354, at Tagaste in North Africa. His father was a modest citizen and member of the city council, who later converted to the Catholic Faith. His mother Monica was a devout Catholic. Augustine had a brother and a sister. The latter, after becoming a widow, dedicated herself to the Lord in the sisters’ community later founded by her brother. Already in his early youth, Augustine showed extraordinary intelligence. He was exposed to the classics of Latin literature and his mother brought him up in the faith, though he was not baptized. As a young man he shed all of his mother’s teaching and began to lead a loose life. Sponsored by a rich patrician of Tagaste, Augustine was able to continue his studies in Carthage where he entered into a relationship with a young woman who bore him a son named Adeodatus. In the midst of all this, Augustine searched for recognition, honor and wealth.

The reading of Cicero’s Hortensius challenged him to change his life and he began to give preference to spiritual over material realities, and to search for wisdom. He found the Sacred Scriptures a disappointment, because he was reading them with a rationalistic mindset. So he looked to the Manichaeans for direction over a period of about ten years. After completing his studies in rhetoric, he returned to Tagaste where he taught for two years and then returned to Carthage where he opened a school of rhetoric. During these times, his mother, Monica, shed many tears on his account and prayed fervently for the conversion of her son.

Augustine had more and more misgivings with the Manichaeans of Carthage. He set out for Rome where he met with a new disappointment and consequently went to Milan in 384 where he lectured in philosophy and often visited the church to listen to the sermons of Bishop Ambrose, whose eloquence he admired. Monica also came to Milan, in 385. Augustine had totally rejected Christianity because he regarded it as a hindrance to his search for the truth. But now he slowly began to see that the faith of his youth was the only path to the truth. A friend gave him a book written by St. Athanasius about the life of Anthony of the desert. Augustine was shocked by the book, saying, “Illiterates reach heaven, and I, with all my knowledge, cannot break away from my passions.” He went into his garden to weep and heard the voice of a child saying, Tolle, lege! (“Take and read!”). He went back into the house and opened the Letters of St. Paul to a page where he found the warning about temperance (Rom.13:13f). This struck him like a ray of grace and he terminated his philosophical activities and his concubinage in the same year.

Augustine retired with his friends and his illegitimate son, Adeodatus, to Cassiciacum, to prepare for baptism. St Ambrose baptized the 33 year old Augustine on April 24, 387, together with his friend Alypius and his 15 year old son, Adeodatus. After his baptism Augustine planned to return to Africa. In Ostia, the port of Rome, his mother died and Augustine remained one more year in Rome where he was very much interested in the monastic life. After his return to Tagaste, he lived with his friends in community. It was here that his son, Adeodatus, died at age 18. Since he was very much sought after in his home city, he went to Hippo, where he continued to live the community life. Bishop Valerius asked him to be ordained and become his coadjutor in 396. As bishop, Augustine lived entirely for those entrusted to his care, preaching alacriter et fortiter (“eagerly and strongly”). He became an enthusiastic promoter of community life according to the example of the first Christian community in Jerusalem. He drew up a Rule full of wisdom, moderation and kindness which revealed the soul and the ideals of Augustine. He gathered his clerics in the bishop’s house where they lived together, without possessions, in prayer, and totally imbued with the spirit of the classical and Christian culture.

Augustine was an incomparable friend, generous, humble, communicative and sincere. He was concerned that his clerics were “with one heart and one soul” on the way to God (as the beginning of his Rule states). For Augustine the love of truth was very strongly combined with friendship and his whole pastoral activity was fed from this source.

Community life, according to Augustine, is based on absolute, personal poverty, “Everything is held in common and distributed to each according to his needs.” Being strict on the first point, he understood what each confrere’s needs were. The monastery life was dulcis (“sweet”) in its external asceticism and fortis (“strong”) in its internal asceticism. He called his priests to be men of prayer. To achieve his goals, Augustine kept watch over the virtue of temperance with supernatural wisdom. He held that communication with people should be led by love and thus forbade all defamatory talk about confreres. He emphasized manual labor, which should go hand-in-hand with contemplation. He wanted his confreres to be ready for the service of the Church and did not want to put the otium spirituale (“spiritual leisure”) before the needs of the Church and the care of souls.

Led by the love of truth, Augustine opposed divisions in the Church with all his strength. He rejected the heresies of the Donatists and Pelagians, and sought to lead the “lost sheep” back into the flock of Christ. Augustine was obedient to tradition, and never pretended that a teaching originated from himself. He was a true shepherd of the Church and was called a “teacher of grace” because again and again, he said, “All my achievement is a gift of God.”

In 426 he chose and consecrated his successor, Severus. The times were dark because the Vandals, coming by way of Spain, could not be stopped. Augustine, as a man of peace, did not succeed in ending the war. For three years the Vandals laid siege to Hippo. It was during this time that Augustine fell ill and died of a fever on August 28, 430, with the words of the Penitential Psalms on his lips. He was 76 years old. As the Muslims laid waste Northern Africa toward the end of the 7th century, the remains of St. Augustine were translated to Sardinia. When the island was later devastated, the relics were brought to Pavia in 725, where they now rest in the Basilica of San Pietro in Cielo d’Oro.

Prayer in honor of St. Augustine

Renew in your Church, we pray, O Lord,
the spirit with which you imbued St. Augustine, so that filled with the same spirit,
we might thirst for you, the only source of wisdom,
and seek you, the author of divine love.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever. Amen.

In his stained-glass window in our abbey church, Augustine is depicted in the regalia of a bishop and offering in his hand the flaming heart which evokes his famous prayer, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You O Lord.” He is also depicted holding the Rule which he wrote for the clergy and which St. Norbert famously championed as a guide for priestly life in the middle ages. He is also depicted handing the rule to St. Norbert who is described in the ancient literature as having a vision in which Augustine gave him the Rule for his new Order to follow.

 

Blessed Bronislava, Virgin—August 30th


Bronislava was born at the castle of Kamien in Upper Silesia in 1203. Her family was of Polish origin and devoted to the Gregorian reform movement. She grew up in an atmosphere deeply influenced by the Crusades, and devotion to the Holy Cross would characterize her entire life. She was 16 years old when she entered the cloister of the Norbertine nuns at Zwierzyniec in Cracow, a convent which had been founded by her maternal grandfather. Bronislava’s devout prayer, her meditation on the Passion of Christ, and her veneration of the Holy Cross left a deep impression on her contemporaries.

When the Tartars invaded Cracow in 1241, Bronislava, holding the Cross in her hand, encouraged her sisters with the words, “Do not be afraid, the Cross will save us.” The barbarians left behind a track of misery. In the same year, the pestilence also ravaged this region. In every difficult challenge, Bronislava, supported by her sisters, was an “angel of consolation” to the people in their need. The population considered her their patroness on whom they could count when they needed protection. Her help and protection was the Cross and she is therefore usually represented as praying before Jesus Crucified. During her grave afflictions, she withdrew to the solitude of the hill of Sikornik where she entrusted her troubles and the troubles of her fellow men to the mercy of God. She saw her cousin, the Dominican St. Hyacinth, in a vision at the time of his death on August 15, 1257, as he went to heaven holding the hand of the Blessed Virgin. This is recorded in the canonization process of St. Hyacinth.

Bronislava died on August 29, 1259. Her body was taken to the convent church and she was invoked as a saint. Her relics were placed in a precious reliquary and were carried in solemn procession each year on the anniversary of her death. Pope Gregory XVI declared her blessed on August 23, 1839. The Polish bishops introduced her canonization process in 1947 under Pope Pius XII but the process was hindered by the forty years of Communist rule in Poland.         

Prayer in honor of Blessed Bronislava

Almighty, eternal God,
you call those who are weak in this world,
to confound those who are strong.
Help us, through the intercession of Blessed Bronislava,
that, notwithstanding our weaknesses,
we may cooperate in the building of your kingdom.
Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

In her stained-glass window in our abbey church, Bronislava is pictured with the crown of virginity, holding the cross, which was the center of her entire life and spirituality. She is often pictured in conversation with Christ who told her, “Because my Cross has been your Cross, my crown will be your crown.”

 

Blessed James Kern, Priest—October 20th


Francis Alexander Kern was born in Vienna on April 11, 1897. Already as a small boy he manifested a strong desire to become a priest. At age eleven the intellectually gifted Francis enrolled in the Minor Seminary at Hollabrunn where he liked to spend his free time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. He was fourteen years old when he made a vow of perpetual chastity. At age fifteen he joined the Third Order of St. Francis. During WWI, shortly after completing his secondary studies in 1915, he enlisted as a volunteer in the army. Even as a soldier he continued his daily adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. On January 1, 1916, during the forty hours devotion in the church of St. Blaise in Salzburg, he asked God to be allowed to suffer in union with His Son, Jesus Christ. His request was soon granted and he was sent to the Italian Front as a lieutenant. In September of 1916 a bullet pierced his lung and caused a wound from which he would never fully recover. He entered the seminary of the archdiocese of Vienna as a convalescent.

About this time a sad event occurred in the Czech Republic. A group of Catholics separated themselves from Rome and founded the schismatic Czech National Church. Isidore Bogdan Zaradnik, a Norbertine canon of Strahov and a doctor of philosophy, also fell away and became a leader of the schism. In this capacity he came to Vienna to agitate against Rome. James was deeply shocked by all this and decided to offer himself in atonement for Isidore. Pope John Paul II would later say, “In this sad event, James Kern discovered his vocation. He desired to be the propitiatory sacrifice for this fallen-away religious. In a manner of speaking, James Kern entered the Norbertine abbey of Geras to replace him in the Order. And God accepted the gift of the ‘substitute’.”

On October 18, 1920, he received the white habit of St. Norbert and the religious name “James” (after the Norbertine martyr St. James Lacoupe). Having been put to the test by sufferings during his time in the army and from his war injury, James took religious life very seriously. His piety, however, was not always understood and appreciated by his confreres. James was a faithful and happy novice and professed his temporary vows in 1921. His abbot wrote of him that, “Consecrated to the Sacred Heart, he fosters the idea of reparation.” Through an indult given in view of his poor health, he was permitted to be ordained a priest already on July 23, 1922, and the great desire of his childhood was finally realized. Nevertheless, at his first Mass he said, “This Palm Sunday will be followed by Good Friday.” His sermons came from the heart and moved his listeners. Because of his weak health, his priestly ministry was limited to the abbey and the neighboring parishes. In 1923 some of his ribs had to be removed using only a local anesthetic, and his Way of the Cross began. He spent a few months in Meran to recuperate, but after returning to Geras his condition grew worse and he had to be very careful. His last sermon, preached on the occasion of the bishop’s jubilee, bore the title, “A man of the Church, loyal to the bishop.” Eventually he had to be taken again to the hospital where he suffered greatly because he refused to take painkillers. In his festering wound he remembered the wound of the Czech schism. On October 20th, the day he was slated to make his solemn profession of vows in the Order, he underwent another surgery. Before the operation he said, “Tomorrow I will see the Mother of God and my Guardian Angel.” He asked that his white habit be prepared and everything made ready for Holy Communion, saying, “The last Communion should be as special and solemn as the first.” The hospital chaplain gave him the last Sacraments during the long surgery and blessed him for the final leg of his journey to the Heavenly Father. James Kern died on October 20, 1924, at the ringing of the noon Angelus bell.

The faithful did not forget the “good Father James.” They came to his grave in Geras to pray and to ask for his intercession. Pope John Paul II beatified James Kern on June 21, 1998, at Vienna’s Heldenplatz (“Heroes’ Square”). Over one-hundred Norbertines joined the thousands of priests and faithful present for this celebration during which the Pope encouraged priests to follow this “hero of the Church” and remain faithful to their vocation.

Prayer in honor of Blessed James

God, who gave your priest Blessed James a zeal for perfection
and the patience to cling to you alone in infirmities;
grant, that strengthened by his intercession,
we may go forth in the way of love rejoicing in the Spirit.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever. Amen.

In his stained-glass window, James is pictured with the sorrowful hearts of Jesus and Mary to whom he offered his life of reparation. He holds a picture of Blessed Carl, last Emperor of Austria, whom he served as a soldier.

 

St. Gilbert, Abbot—October 26th


The knight Gilbert belonged to the high nobility of Auvergne. Following the advice of Ornifius, the Norbertine abbot of Dilo, he participated in the Second Crusade (1147-1149) which was preached by St. Bernard at Vezelay and led by the French king, Louis VII. This crusade ended in military disaster.

Having survived this dangerous endeavor, Gilbert decided, together with his wife Petronilla, and his daughter Ponzia, to dedicate himself to God and enter the monastic life. He distributed a portion of his considerable wealth to the poor and also founded a convent which his wife and daughter entered. At first Gilbert himself lived as a hermit. After completing his novitiate in the Norbertine abbey of Dilo, he founded the abbey of Neuffontaines around 1150 and became its first abbot. Following the example of St. Norbert, he also built a hospital attached to the abbey, which soon became famous because of the many miracles that occurred there. Penitent and filled with compassion, he cared for a great number of sick and sinful people, whom he wished to heal both spiritually and physically. Children with severe sickness were brought to him from all over. He laid his hands on them and gave them back to their parents healed. This gave rise to the later custom of parents bringing their sick children to Neuffontaines, clothed in white, seeking the intercession of St. Gilbert for healing.

Gilbert died on June 5, 1152, consumed by penance and hard work. He had expressed his desire to be buried in the cemetery of the poor. But because of the many miracles which God worked through his intercession, his earthly remains were eventually transferred to the abbey church of Neuffontaines, and after being lost for a time, were later rediscovered in October of 1615. The relics were then transferred for greater safety to St. Didier in 1791 and nevertheless lost during the tumult of the French Revolution. St. Gilbert’s feastday (October 26th) falls on the anniversary of his translation. Pope Benedict XIII confirmed the veneration of St. Gilbert on January 22, 1728.  

Prayer in honor of St. Gilbert

God, who called your abbot St. Gilbert away from the riches of the world,
so that he might enter into the way of poverty, grant, we beseech you,
that entering into the way of humility,
we may strive to serve our brothers.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever. Amen.

In his stained-glass window in our abbey church, Gilbert is pictured trampling the shield and sword of war beneath his feet and carrying the Crusader’s flag aloft, illustrating the fact that Gilbert placed the crusading spirit at the service of his heavenly King. He is sometimes pictured in company with his wife and daughter who joined the Order and also won reputations for great holiness of life.

 

St. Siard, Abbot—November 14th


Siard was born into a noble family of Friesland. He studied in the abbey school of Mariëngaarde where St. Frederick was abbot at the time. He asked for admission to the novitiate in 1175. After twenty years of religious life he was elected the fifth abbot of Mariëngaarde in 1194. Nothing in his daily life distinguished him from his confreres. He wore the same habit, ate at the same table, and slept in the same dormitory. On account of his exceptional humility, he resolutely refused everything that was not strictly necessary. He was a good administrator who governed his monastery well, both in spiritual and material matters. The apostolic spirit of the Order thrived at Mariëngaarde under his leadership. Whenever Siard went on a journey, he took along a large basket full of bread and other foods that he could distribute among the poor. Because of this he is usually depicted with a basket at his feet.  He had the gift of appeasing hatred and reconciling enemies. He urged three things upon the confreres who had to leave the monastery: a joyous departure, a peaceful sojourn, and a happy return. Siard had a special devotion to Martha and Mary. He looked to Martha as an example for his care of the confreres and to Mary as a reminder of the necessity of listening to Christ in prayer and meditation. Siard worked side by side with his confreres during the periods of manual labor, especially in the fields. He would lead the confreres in the singing of Psalms during harvest time. Occasionally he would fall into ecstasy during prayer and hear the heavenly music of the angels. He had been abbot for thirty-six years when he died in 1230. Numerous faithful were granted special favors by God at his grave.

After the destruction of Mariëngaarde by the Calvinists in 1578, his earthly remains were rescued by a Friesland nobleman, Siard of Helsema, who brought them to Hildesheim. In 1608 his relics were divided and placed in two separate reliquaries. One of these was brought to the abbey of St. Feuillin du Roeulz in 1617.  After the suppression of this abbey during the French Revolution the relics were taken to the church at Strépy. In 1938, Prelate Bauwens brought them to the Norbertine abbey of Leffe. The other reliquary was brought to Tongerlo in 1617, where ever since the people have held St. Siard in great honor and celebrated his feast each year with great solemnity. The relic of Siard’s head found a home in the Generalate House in Rome until 2001 when it was transferred to the abbey of Windberg. The cult of St. Siard was confirmed by Pope Benedict XIII on January 22, 1728.

Prayer in honor of St. Siard

God, who made your saints to obey the gospel as an example for many,
grant, we beseech you, that we may imitate the cheerful goodness and devout piety of the blessed abbot Siard.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever. Amen.

In his stained-glass window in our abbey church, Siard is pictured in the garb of an abbot with bread for the poor, a shovel for his manual labor, and the wheat which he harvested by the sweat of his brow. He sometimes holds the Cross and discipline which evoke his penitential way of life.