Life of St. Norbert
St. Norbert, the patron saint of our parish, was born in Xanten, Germany, in 1080. As a young man he served at the imperial court of Henry V, the Holy Roman Emperor.
He was a talented and charming member of court and became known for mediating power struggles between religious and political factions of the time. Norbert was appalled by the insistence of Henry V to be allowed to appoint Bishops. He spoke out against the emperor’s actions and often found himself torn between his conflicting interests in the secular and religious world.
Those conflicts ceased, however, in 1115 when Norbert was thrown from his horse and nearly killed in a thunderstorm. At that moment Norbert heard the words of the psalm: “Turn away from evil and do good. Seek peace and follow after it.” From that point on, Norbert dedicated himself to religious life. He was ordained by the Archbishop of Cologne and traveled the countryside preaching the word of God and advocating the reform of the clergy. Often criticized and rebuked by the church hierarchy, he was given permission by the Pope to preach at will without interference. In time, Norbert was encouraged to settle in a diocese in northern France.
On Christmas Eve, 1120, Norbert and thirteen companions began what would become the Order of Premontre, named after the remote valley in northern France where they were first established. With the rule of St. Augustine as its guide, the Norbertine community was marked by a life of poverty, prayer and complete fidelity to the ideal of community life. Norbert attracted many followers and was later ordained Archbishop of Magdeburg.
As Archbishop he relinquished leadership of the Order and concentrated his efforts on trying to unite the vast dioceses on the northeastern frontier of the German empire. He worked vigorously for the freedom of the Church over the secular interests of the various princes throughout the region.
Norbert was known for his intense prayer before the Holy Eucharist. During his lifetime there was a growing heresy raising doubts about Christ’s true presence in the Holy Eucharist. Norbert preached against this heresy and vehemently affirmed the true presence of the Lord in the Eucharist. St. Norbert is often portrayed holding the Holy Eucharist or an olive branch in his hand.
Norbert died in Magdeburg, Germany on June 6, 1134. This date is commemorated by the universal Church.
St. Norbert left no writings or formal history of his time. His legacy was the religious community he left behind. At the time they were known as The Order of Premontre, or the Norbertines as they are more commonly called in the United States.
The Norbertines seek continual conversion through a community life bound by vows of poverty, consecrated celibacy and obedience. This Norbertine charism seeks to inspire and animate the public ministry of its priests and brothers with a daily commitment of communal and private prayer and the support of a spiritually focused community life.