Feeling Any Older Today? ... Or Just Getting Better With Age?

Many people in Wisconsin and Mississippi are aware that today is Brett Favre's Birthday. While he's beginning to catch up to me [age-wise!], he seems to be turning back the clock in so many ways this NFL season. I wish him the very best today -- his 38th!

But he's a mere youth, compared to the other birthday we celebrate today. Today marks the 109th birthday of Saint Norbert College. It was on this day -- 10 October 1898 -- that the then Father Bernard Pennings began teaching Latin to a couple of neighborhood boys in the Saint Joseph Rectory kitchen. That was the birth of what we celebrate today and each day we experience the joys of SNC!

But how did it all begin? Back in 1893 Father Pennings arrived in America (in the Belgian Peninsula) at the request of Green Bay's Bishop Sebastian Messmer. He wanted Dutch speaking priests to come and serve the Belgian population in the Kewaunee - Door County area. However, Father Pennings knew that he would need to seek a larger canvass if he were to build a school that would have a lasting mission. So before that fateful day back in October 109 years ago today, this is what lead up to obtaining [Old] Saint Joseph Church and the surrounding areas -- thus giving birth to Saint Norbert College!

Thursday of Holy Week, 1897

Dear Right Reverend Abbot,

I had thought to put off the writing [of this letter] a little longer, but perhaps one of my confreres may inform you, or has already written to you, and then my silence [in the matter] could be misunderstood. We are negotiating to buy a property for a convent. The Bishop and his consulters have decided to transfer the Saint Joseph Church (French) in West DePere to a religious Order, because they do not see any other possibility of ever paying off the debt on this property. As soon as I knew that the decision had really been made, I wrote to the Bishop, but he had already offered the location to the Redemptorists, who have now consulted with their General, because the location is outside their province (for they belong to the Canadian provinces and cannot come into the United States.) Much will depend on their decision, at least if the Bishop does not accept us before they have reached a conclusion.

This week I went with Father Lambert and his brother Alphonse Broens for more information, but our trip miscarried in part because of bad weather: we could spend only one hour in Green Bay; and because the Bishop is sick again, we could only speak with the Vicar General Fox. We thought we could infer from his words that we still had a chance to succeed, but you can not rely on everything [you hear]! It does appear somewhat strange to us that it was not offered to us but the Redemptorists; however, if it is possible, I am going to Green Bay next week, because we must try to undercut the Redemptorists. And now, what kind of location is it?

The property consists of a church (very lovely), a rectory and a Sisters’ house, with a school; in addition another house and five building lots. There is a debt of $4000 on the church, and the other house with the lots is for sale for $2800. The location is splendid, right on the Fox River, between East and West DePere, about five minutes from the main bridge; it is also very favorably situated, 5 miles from Green Bay, with two important railroads and an electric streetcar line. The parish itself is nothing special, approximately 80 families, French Canadians and Belgians. But the most important thing is that it comes with the Archconfraternity of Saint Joseph and a periodical “Annals of Saint Joseph.” That alone assures adequate income, because of the many Masses and stipends etc.

The magazine at present has about 1000 subscribers, and that can be increased to 8 or 10 thousand, it is thought. It is precisely because of the Archconfraternity that no secular priest can run the place. After considering all this information, I am not afraid of buying the entire property for the incumbent debt, it could be paid for in a few years, and we will not easily find anything as beautiful again.
Let us pray in honor of Saint Joseph that it may all work out favorably for us.

Respectful Greetings, Rt. Rev. Abbot, from your obedient confrere,

Bern. H. Pennings, Prior
Taken from: Letters Written in Good Faith, Alt Publishing, Green Bay, 1996


RG said...

Father Jim -

That is such a GREAT photo of you in your blog! Who took it? Had to have been a good photographer.

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