Tag Archives: Norbertines

A Norbertine Vocation Story

Fr. Claude (l) and a confrere at prayer
Fr. Claude (l) and a confrere at prayer

Our Sunday Visitor has a wonderful article about a young Norbertine priest who is part of the community of Norbertines at St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California. Fr. Claude Williams, O.Praem., articulates the beauty of Norbertine life extremely.

Father Claude grew up in New Orleans where he was talk by religious sisters. While attending Franciscan University of Steubenville, a Carmelite sister from Alhambra, California, suggested that he become acquainted with the Norbertines. He was very impressed with the liturgical life of the Norbertines and found that he “could not imagine spending my life anywhere else but the abbey.”

After entering the order, Claude found that he liked the regular monastic routine. For Norbertines, this begins with 5:30 a.m. morning prayer, 6:30 a.m. Mass, followed by prayers of thanksgiving. A 4:00 p.m. Holy Hour is followed by vespers. After dinner comes night prayer and lights out at 10:00 p.m. The Norbertine motto is: “Prepared for Every Good Work.” The first and foremost good work is the reverent celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

Father Claude is assigned to a Norbertine parish in Costa Mesa, CA. Though Norbertines staff parishes, they are not diocesan priests. They are Canons Regular meaning that they live in community and share a common life. It is the life of the Apostles where everything was held in common and they prayed together several times a day.

Father professed solemn vows in 2009. In addition to poverty, chastity and obedience, Norbertines profess a fourth vow of Conversion of Ways. “The limits placed on us by the holy vows are formative,” he said. “They help you to be what you are supposed to be.” A fellow religious told him, “Today, you will make your vows. One day, the vows will make you.”

For more information on the Norbertines, visit their website.

Norbertines Break Ground!

Wilmington Sisters
Wilmington Sisters

Last July, earth moving equipment began to level the ground in Silverado Canyon in preparation for the construction of the new abbey for the Norbertines, replacing the old one which is really bursting at the seams with students and vocations.

This past August, the California abbey welcomed six young men who are studying to become Norbertine canons. Three young women as well became the first Americans to enter the Nobertine sisters from Slovakia (Sr. Adriana, Sr. Roberta & Sr. Benedicta)  who reside in a convent nearby Wilmington.

The new abbey will include a church, convent, welcome area/meeting rooms, monastery and cemetery chapel. These buildings will comprise only a small portion of the hundreds of acres of the original Holtz ranch thus preserving an important part of the rural California landscape.

The Norbertine also have a cloistered community of Norbertine Canonesses that is growing rapidly in Tehachapi. The Norbertine Sisters of Wilmington are one of the newest branches on the family tree of the Norbertine Order founded by St. Norbert (1080-1134). They were founded in 1902 in the Czech Republic by Fr. Vojtech Frejka, a Norbertine Father from the abbey of Strahov in Prague. The Slovakian Norbertines reside in SS. Peter and Paul Convent in Wilmington, CA, which was established in 2011.

“Our congregation of Norbertine sisters in Slovakia received an invitation from the Norbertine fathers in California to help them establish a new community of Norbertine sisters in the United States,” said Sr. Benedicta.

In Wilmington, they minister to needy families, teach religious education, and work in the Catholic book & gift store, and in the parish office. Like St. Norbert, they live a common life, “prepared for every good work,” centered daily on the Mass and chanting of the Divine Office.

Teaching Eternal Values

The National Catholic Register has an article in its latest issue (2/9/14) about teaching Orders active in the Church today. I am happy to say that all of those cited are IRL Affiliate members and doing astonishingly well with vocations. Here are some highlights:


op edNashville Dominicans:

Their official name is the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia and they were founded in 1860, proving that you do not have to be an new order in order to be thriving. The Motherhouse is located in Tennessee, the state with the lowest percentage of Catholics in the U.S. There are 300 sisters teaching in 40 schools in the US, though there are also sisters in Australia, Canada and Scotland.The Dominicans’ motto is veritas (truth) with the mission to contemplate the truths of Christ and pass on the fruits of that contemplation to others.  The sisters equip students “to go out and transform the culture for Christ.”


ck2 edSchool Sisters of Christ the King

The School Sisters of Christ the King were founded in 1976 by Bishop Glennon Flavin, the 3rd president of the IRL. There are 32 sisters teaching 1500 students in the Diocese of Lincoln. Their goal is “to bring abut the reign of Christ through Catholic education.” Three former students have become sisters within the order! What a wonderful testimony to the holy example of the teaching sisters!


op2 edDominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist

These Dominican sisters were canonically established in 1997. Then there were 4 sisters—today there are 120 sisters whose average age is 29! The sisters teach in schools in 8 states across the country. Sr. Joseph Andrew said, “Ours is a holistic approach, touching mind, body and soul. We seek to put a Catholic culture in our schools.”


opraem edNorbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey

The Norbertines operate St. Michael’s Abbey Preparatory School, a boarding school for 67 students, in Silverado, California. It is consistently ranked among the top 50 Catholic high schools in the nation. There are also expansion plans to handle 100 students. Fr. Victor Szczurek, O.Praem., says that it was “monastic schools like our own that helped form Christendom in Europe and throughout the world.” Their daily program includes Mass and 40 minutes of Eucharistic adoration. By the end of their 4 years of studies, says Father, the students “are convinced of the vital importance of the Church’s sacraments.”






The Ultimate Team

Last October, I wrote a blog entry about Grant Desme who gave up a lucrative contract with the Oakland A’s to join another team—the Norbertines in Silverado, California. Grant was recently interviewed by the National Catholic Register and shared some profound thoughts about man’s vocation in the light of God and what he has learned as a seminarian studying for the priesthood.

Now known as Frater Matthew, he always thought that happiness as a baseball player was just around the corner but he was always left feeling restless. “No matter how well I played or how far I advanced,” he said. “I never gained the complete, lasting happiness I was expecting. There were thrills, but none of them lasted. Everything here below is fleeting.” When he injured his shoulder in 2007, his rehabilitation stint gave him a lot of time to think. “I realized that even if I played 20 years in the major leagues and ended up a Hall of Famer, I would still die one day. No matter what I achieved, I would be just as dead as everyone else in the cemetery.”

Frater Matthew with his family

“I then thought of my particular judgment and how I would be held accountable for every decision I made in life. Eternal punishment or reward would follow, based on whether or not I was a faithful disciple of Jesus. It became clear that I had to get into a deeper, more prayerful relationship with the Lord.”

As a man, Frater Matthew seemed to have it all as a ball player—a big bank account and a shiny SUV. But true masculinity, he says, is “based on self-sacrificing love. Being a man is not about stepping on others, but lifting others up. It’s about using the God-given strength you have to protect others and guide them to eternal life.”

As someone who has been involved with the fraternity of a baseball team, religious life is a good fit for Frater Matthew. “Instead of fighting an athletic battle, we’re fighting a spiritual one,” he says. “We’re united in fraternal charity to overcome the world, the flesh and the devil. Every time we offer the sacrifice of the Mass, take part in a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament or pray the Divine Office, we’re doing things that have an eternal effect not only on ourselves, but on the whole Church.”

Frater Matthew ended the interview by saying: “The only thing that will last after death is our relationship — or lack thereof — with God. This is something that should motivate everyone to see past the superficial things of life that clamor for our attention and instead invest our lives in God, trusting in his mercy.”


Holy Week With the Norbertines

In this day and age when homogenization seems to rule the day, it is wonderful to know that there are some venerable orders like the Dominicans and the Carmelites who still retain their ancient liturgical practices. In particular, the Norbertine liturgy during Holy Week is replete with symbols which echo back to ancient practices. Saint Norbert lived around the time of the Crusades and since the Latin Catholic liturgy was the predominant from of worship in Jerusalem, the liturgical practices of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the site of our Lord’s Crucifixion, Death and Resurrection, had a profound impact on the Norbertine liturgy.

First, the Norbertines’ habit is white, like the original canons of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, symbolizing the angels who announced the Lord’s Resurrection.

At the end of the Palm Sunday procession, there is an unveilng and a threefold adoration of the Holy Cross, a 12th century practice in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

On Good Friday, there is a special form of the unveiling and adoration of the Cross, symbolizing the Eastern and Western Churches uniting at the foot of Calvary.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

It is the tradition in the Holy Land to celebrate the Mass of the place versus the Mass of the day. So, for example, in Bethlehem, no matter what the day of the year (with some exceptions), the Mass celebrating the Lord’s birth is the order of the day. It is also true that in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Easter Mass is usually celebrated every single day of the year. The Norbertines imitated this practice by celebrating the Mass of Easter each Sunday of Easter. At St. Michael’s Abbey in California, the Easter Antiphon of Easter Sunday is sung on each Sunday of the Easter season.

Finally, the Church calls for all the faithful to bow in reverence during the Nicene Creed when we recall the Incarnation. The Norbertines extend this reverence when the Nicene Creed is sung though the words professing faith in Jesus’ Burial and they rise from this reverence when they profess faith in His Resurrection. Once again, this practice comes from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

For more information, see the Spring 2013 issue of the St. Michael Messenger from St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, CA. If you are nearby a Norbertine Abbey, try attend a Norbertine liturgy and deepen your experience of Holy Week and the holy season of Easter. You don’t have to be a pilgrim to the Holy Land to experience a little bit of the uniqueness that comes from these ancient and deeply moving liturgical traditions.






Canons and Canonesses

One day, I received a call asking what a canoness was. I confess I could not answer the question except that I supposed that they were associated with canons. The only canonesses I know of are members of the flourishing and rapidly growing community (they are building a convent to house 48 sisters) of Norbertine Canonesses in Tehachapi, California. According to a Catholic dictionary, a canoness is  a woman who lives a vowed religious life according to the Rule of St. Augustine followed by the Canons Regular.

The next obvious question is: what is a Canon Regular? Canons regular are a community of men following the Rule of St. Augustine who seek to fulfill the Church’s obligation and privilege to worship God through the public celebration of the Divine Liturgy. Hence, canons are usually priests and associated with a particular church. There are also Canons Secular who do not profess vows and may own their own property. St. Bruno, founder of the Carthusians, was a Secular Canon of the Cathedral in Rheims, France.

Pope Pius X, when approving the Constitutions of the Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception said: “This type of priestly life that unites the pastoral ministry and the religious life, is truly admirable and is to be commended. Far from being opposed to each other they strengthen and fortify each other … to the great advantage of the people.”

St. Thomas Aquinas says: “The Order of Canons Regular is necessarily constituted by religious clerics, because they are essentially destined to those works which relate to the Divine mysteries, whereas it is not so with the monastic Orders,” The clerical state is what distinguishes the Canons Regular from monks who may or may not be priests.

Canonesses are also asked to lend “their voices to Him and to His entire mystical body so that Heaven’s eternal canticle may resound also on earth. Therefore, they dedicate themselves to an individual Church of their order.” The Norbertine canonesses are associated with St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California. Their life is one of sacrifice and prayer, especially liturgical prayer, ie, the Mass and Divine Office. For a history and current status of Norbertine canonesses around the world, check out the Norbertine website in Chelmsford, England.

There are four IRL Affiliate Communities that are composed of Canons Regular.

May the Canons Regular and canonesses, by their prayers and witness, strengthen parish and family life across our country.


Feast of St. Norbert

June 6th is the Feast Day of St. Norbert. May the Norbertines around the world be blessed by their most saintly founder, St. Norbert.

The five ends of the Norbertines are:

1) Laus Dei in choro (the singing of the Divine Office)

2) Zelus animarum (zeal for the salvation of souls)

3) Spiritus jugis pœnitentiæ (the spirit of habitual penance)

4) Cultus Eucharisticus (a special devotion to the Holy Eucharist)

5) Cultus Marianus (a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin)

Check out the Norbertine website of St. Michael’s Abbey (a thriving IRL Affiliate Community) in Silverado, CA, and the Norbertine Canonesses website as well which is a new community of nuns.

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts

The Institute on Religious Life is pleased to announce that it will host a regional conference in Southern California on the topic “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts: The Sacred Liturgy and Consecrated Life.”

The event will take place on Saturday, January 28, 2012 at Sts. Peter and Paul parish in Wilmington, California. Speakers include Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P. and Rt. Rev. Eugene Hayes, O. Praem., abbot of St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California.

As the Church embraces the revised edition of the Roman Missal, it is good to be reminded that “an indispensable means of effectively sustaining communion with Christ is assuredly the Sacred Liturgy” (Bl. John Paul II, Vita Consecrata, no. 95).

This year’s regional meeting will offer reflections on the vital importance of the Sacred Liturgy in the Church’s life and mission, with special emphasis on how Divine Worship relates to the consecrated life in the living out of the evangelical counsels and serving the needs of others.

Everyone—clergy, religious and laity—is welcome to attend this day of spiritual renewal, reflection and affirmation of the consecrated life.

For more information or to register, click here.

New Norbertine Community

Norbertine Sisters of the Bethlehem Priory in Tehachapi

The late Most Rev. John Steinbock, in one of his final acts as Bishop of Fresno, approved the foundation of the Norbertine Sisters of the Bethlehem Priory in Tehachapi.

The cloistered sisters, who now are 20 in number, began in 1996 as a group of lay women who wanted to become Norbertine canonesses. This past Saturday, they were officially erected as a part of the worldwide Norbertine family.

They rented a house in Portola Hills across from the abbey, and began living an apostolic life of prayer together. In 1998, the five original members received their habit in St. Michael’s Abbey church and moved to a temporary house–the former convent at the parish of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Santa Ana, where they were warmly welcomed.

After a piece of land was procured for them in Tehachapi, a group of helpers, both Norbertine and lay, helped prepare the housing on the new property, situated in the low Sierra–a stunning setting. The sisters grew rapidly in this secluded site, living a cloistered life of prayer and manual labor.

Nine of the twenty made solemn vows in the Cathedral of St. John on Saturday. The Norbertine Abbot General, Thomas Handgretinger, was on hand from Rome to officiate at the Mass, and the sisters gave their vows to Fr. Eugene Hayes, Abbot of St. Michael’s and founding prelate.

What a great day for the Catholic Church in California and for the Norbertines throughout the world!