1 9 9 3 -- HOME SWEET HOME -- 2 0 0 8: Fifteen Years of Priory Living

Last night as I was gearing up for the wedding rehearsal of Ryan Merle and Jennifer Berres, I was talking to our wedding hostess, Sharon Nolan, about the blog. Sharon seems to be a regular reader here -- for some reason I always thought she was a woman of very refined sophistication; her allegiance to this blog might place my assumption into question, wouldn't you think?

At one point in our discussion I mentioned something in passing about priory life; having realized that this summer marks 15 years that I call 103 Grant Street my home. I moved into the Priory together with Norbertine Fathers Seamus Neilson, Tom Meulemans and Joseph Rekasi. I thought I'd share a few observations about life here at the heart of St. Norbert College.

First of all, the physical structure. The Priory consist of two major wings -- the front wing (or "Old Wing" as we call it) faces and runs parallel to Grant Street. For most people who drive by, that is the only part of the Priory that you see considering we are bounded by the Fox River to our east and the church to the west. From Grant Street it is difficult to see the "New Wing" that runs parallel to the river and church.

The "Old Wing" is actually the original Abbey before the new structure was built on North Broadway across the river 49 years ago (more about that at a later date). The "Old Wing" only houses one Norbertine resident, Father Gery Meehan, O. Praem., who lives in what was once called the "Vatican Library" which later would become the "Principal's Suite" occupied by the principals of Abbot Pennings High School. The rest of the wing serves as common area for Norbertines and our guests including the kitchen and dining room on the ground level; the provisor's office, computer room, conference room, the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and two spiritual direction rooms for students or visitors who stop by for Confession, spiritual direction, pastoral counselling or marriage preparation on the second floor, just off the main entrance.

At the end of the second floor hall is the Abbot Pennings Suite. This is where most of our guests reside -- the suite consists of a sitting room / dining area as well as a bedroom and private bathroom. The most intriguing part of the suite is the walk in vault in the guest bedroom where -- you guessed it, Abbot Pennings -- the abbot, pastor, president... ... .. "slept" on the community's resources, usually stuffed in various cigar boxes! It's quite a topic of conversation for our visitors.

On the third level you will encounter a very large public bathroom and several individual guest rooms as well as the Principal's Suite. Go to the fourth floor and this is where you will find the Norbertines gather with one another together with our guests. There is a private bathroom as well as our common TV room, reading room, hospitality room and very large living room. This room is most beautiful (I think) during the fall when you look out the southeast windows and see the Fox River and the beautiful colors on the campus and stretching across to the east side of DePere and Scray's Hill. The living room is also quite nice when Father Tim decorates the entire floor for Christmas -- he even changes the pictures on the walls with various seasonal religious themes.

The center stairway connects the Old and New Wings. Most of us reside in the back wing, and most of us have a great view of the Fox River. It is common for the guys to have two rooms that accommodate an office space and a bedroom space. While my living room overlooks the river, my bedroom overlooks my work (!) as the steeple lights shine into my room by night -- reminding me of homilies that need to be completed and Masses that need to be celebrated. Fortunately, I wake up before the morning bells and I rarely get to bed before the 10 PM hour toll, so the church does not keep me up and the look of the bell tower and steeple is actually quite pleasant!

The physical structure of our house certainly satisfies our needs -- it's not too big, not too small from our perspective. And yet, it is not the physical structure that makes St. Joe's, home (although I have gotten pretty accustomed to a private bathroom)! Rather, it is the family that lives here that makes St. Joe's feel so homelike. Father Louie VandeCastle, O. Praem., of happy memory, used to call St. Joe's "the house of un-wed fathers on the St. Norbert College campus." Some of us found that to be funny and "totally-Louie!" One, and he shall remain nameless, would just close his eyes and shake his head!

Today, the family that lives here in the place I call home includes the following:

Father James Baraniak, O. Praem., your author, who serves as pastor of Old St. Joe's and St. Norbert College -- sacramental minister to the inmate population at Green Bay Correctional Institution and the Green Bay Packers. This summer I have enjoyed presiding at Daily Mass for listeners across the country who tune into Relevant Radio. I also step in as the regular pizza baker to accompany Law & Order, Criminal Minds, Cold Case... ... ...

Father John Bostwick, O. Praem. is instructor of Religious Studies and ADMAR Advisor at St. Norbert College. Father John often assists Father Tim at Lourdes and is sought out consistently by students and faithful of the diocese for spiritual direction. Father John readily presides at Old Saint Joe's and is very present to our student population at church. He is our house secretary and has a great sense of humor -- a humor that sometimes appears as innocent, but...!!!

Father Robert Cornell, O. Praem. is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at St. Norbert College, having just retired a few years past. Many remember him as a local Congressman, one of only two priests to serve as such in our nation's history. Father Bob is spending some of his time in retirement residing at St. Norbert Abbey; however, he retains his rooms here and visits on occasion. Still very active in political affairs, he is a regular writer in the People's Forum in the Green Bay Press Gazette. I'm wondering how Father Bob will vote this November?

Father Rowland DePeaux, O. Praem. is our SNC Professor Emeritus of French. Father Rowland is a very sophisticated priest who assists in many area churches as well as a few churches in California where his brother lives. Father Rowland represents us so well in many of Dudly Birder's music events -- he's got great pipes! And he's quite the chef -- he often cooks for the house when the professional cooks are away. Father Rowland is the appointed chaplain to the SNC Alumni; as such, he keeps a very high profile on our campus and engages in many events with the alums.

Father Conrad Kratz, O. Praem. is the Director of the Norbertine Center for Spirituality. Father Conrad seems to have put the center on the map, which he's done with other apostolates as well -- he has created a great working environment by bringing the best people together on his staff. When Father Conrad is not venturing over to the abbey, he's out running parish missions and assisting in weekend help at area churches; St. Jude in Green Bay this weekend! Father Conrad's humor and laugh, which he gets from his mother, keeps us on the edge of our seats -- we never know what we're going to get from him. It makes life at SJP very spontaneous and enjoyable. Oh yes, Father Conrad will go down to the kitchen to get the pizzas that I cook --- we don't let him get too close to the pizza oven!

Father Alfred McBride, O. Praem. is our fearless leader, our House Superior. Allegedly he is retired, but we see no evidence of it. In addition to his thoughtful ministry to all of us in the house, he tends the flower garden between the priory and church that only Norbertines see, given its secluded location. It wonderfully enhances our trips to and from the daily office. Father Al is on many national boards of church organizations and is often out giving parish missions or days of reflection across the country; when doing so Father Conrad and I shepherd the community (look out, folks!). Father Alfred can be seen celebrating Mass at 6:45 AM at the college church and can be heard on Relevant Radio doing the same. He has cranked out any number of great books for your reading enjoyment. I enjoyed seeing Father Al's face posted all over a Catholic bookstore when I last travelled to Indianapolis -- it made me feel right at home. Father Alfred and I share many political views together, so we're in cahoots with each other on many issues!

Father Brendan McKeough, O. Praem. just retired having recently served in Hispanic Ministry in Cuernavaca, Mexico. In fact, you might recall Father Brendan exposed Father Conrad, Father Tim and me to his mission three years ago. Father Brendan continues to keep close contact with the Benedictine Sisters in Mexico and he continually updates us on the condition of the people we met there years ago. On the home front, Father Brendan is an active minister at St. Willy's and is often sought out to speak on issues of peace and justice. When not engaged in these activities, he's involved in all sorts of card games with other emeritus professors from St. Norbert College. His humor, energy and passion for the Gospel seems unstoppable!

Father Gery Meehan, O. Praem., like several of our guys, is a much beloved priest in the area. He is still ministering to families that he served at the high school as well as at St. Mary's and Old St. Joe's. Today he serves officially at St. Willy's in Green Bay. Like Father John, Father Gery has a great sense of humor -- very Irish, indeed. He will often blush to the point of purple when he's about to drop one of his zingers! And sometimes we even laugh!! Father Gery also serves the faithful over at the Nicolet retirement home and he still has a pretty intense wedding ministry to all sorts of young folks. You can see him walking the bridge quite often -- usually bearing some sort of wrapped gift he is about to give to someone else.

Thomas Meulemans, O. Praem. is actually a member of Daylesford Abbey, our daughter abbey out east; but as an Appleton native and long-time resident of the Priory, we rarely notice the difference in canonry membership. Father Tom actually moved into the Priory the same day I moved here from Chicago. He did so to assume the position of Mission Procurator. Father Tom runs all of the activity out of our mission office; as such he is often on the road preaching on behalf of Padres Norbertinos. When closer to home, Father Tom often presides at the 6:45 AM Mass and always assists me and other area pastors with Advent and Lenten Reconciliation services. He is well known to many as the former principal of Abbot Pennings High School. Father Tom has a voice that is unmatched by others, and has a look similar to Tip O'Neil, but nothing can quite capture the look on his face when his hearty laughter takes over; those are good times indeed.

Father Brian Prunty, O. Praem. serves as an instructor of Religious Studies at St. Norbert College. Talk about Irish humor, he has me cracking up all of the time! In addition to his teaching and serving as a member of the Trustees at St. Norbert, Father Brian still maintains close ties with many in Chicago considering the many years of ministry he performed in parish churches there coupled with his medical ministry for years at Cook County Jail. I have the privilege of succeeding Father Brian as pastor of the college -- I was a bit intimidated to do so considering how polished he is as a presider and how provocative he is as a preacher. Father Brian often steps in for our cooks when they are away on vacation -- his ribs are second to none!

Father Joseph Rekasi, O. Praem., is the resident "Culture Vulture!" In his retirement from teaching French for years at Norbertine and Jesuit institutions, Father Joe seems to take in anything offered at the Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts and the Weidner Center. He's an avid walker in the area malls and he takes in many, many movies. Father Joe has as much fun watching our college students perform as Broadway professionals on stage. We need to be careful, though, when asking about the latest movie he's just seen. Siskel & Roeper aside, Father Joe will fill us in on everything -- even the stunning conclusions if we don't cut him off before he gets too wound up telling the story!

Father Peter Renard, O. Praem. is a local boy, having been raised a son of Annunciation Parish. Father Pete recently retired from serving as the associate pastor of Green Bay's Quad Parishes, but he's hardly standing by idle. Father Pete is very active in ministry to the diocese's Hmong population and ventures across the diocese serving that community of faith. When not on the road to minister, hunt or fish, we can hear him practicing musical instruments in the Old Wing. I've yet been able to "name that tune," however!

Father Timothy Shillcox, O. Praem. is our former superior who serves as pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes in DePere after a long and successful pastorate at Holy Cross in Bay Settlement. Many people seek Father Tim out for kind and compassionate guidance. Father Tim's ministerial endeavors finds him walking not only with Lourdes parishioners, but former parishioners and students from Premontre and Notre Dame High Schools and former retreat participants. Never forgetting a face, date or name, Father Tim can tell us which of his students occupied which seat, which room, which hour, which year. And then there's Church or Order history! Father Tim is our popcorn maker and house decorator. Caring for and ministering to his parents amidst their joys and struggles of getting older, Father Tim is an inspiration to me; albeit on many levels.

Father Robert VandeHey, O. Praem., Professor Emeritus of Biology at St. Norbert College is the House Provisor (treasurer). Having the perfect mind for science, Father Bob is very detailed in his working with house finances. Because his office is so close to the main entrance, he often deals with many other issues of the house including taking care of visitors and fielding phone calls that come into the house. When he's not in his office he's often presiding at the 6:45 AM Mass or at Masses at the area Rennes facilities. Just yesterday while I was making rounds at the nursing home, a young gentleman had some very nice things to say about Father Bob's ministry there over the years. I was proud to be associated with his kind comments about Father Bob.

Brother Vasclov, O. Praem. has a habit I truly admire: yes, that's it: habit! His habit is slightly different from ours, sporting buttons down the scapular -- a dead give away that he is from a European Abbey. Vasclov is just one of many Norbertines who come here to take part in the English as a Second Language program here at the college. Vasclov has been here for the academic year, and while he will probably depart sometime this summer, I suspect a different Norbertine Confrere or Sister will follow in his place. We are a much richer community when we open our doors and hearts to people like Brother Vasclov.

So those are the people who make this house a home. Sure, as Sharon wondered, there are those few moments when sometimes we get on each others nerves. Every family seems to have that going on. But the good times far exceed those few instances. As you can see, we are a very active house -- all of us engaged in internal and external ministry. After a long day's work, it's good to come home knowing that someone else will have left a light on for you. And it's nice to know that when we might seem overwhelmed by the needs or demands of the apostolate, the brothers will know and understand what's up; they'll know that sometimes it is important for charity to begin at home. That's what seems to happen here. Thus we continue to gather together for prayer and recreation, singing in one mind and heart on our way home to God that beloved refrain , "God's flock is in your midst; give it a shepherd's care!"


Anonymous said...

WOW ... just about the time I think you've disappeared and abandoned your blog site ... WHAM..you regale us with such warm accounts of your usual BUSY, BUSY adventures!

By the way, speaking of your rooms at the Priory, did you ever finish painting them?

What a wonderful variety of personalities reside at the Priory; I'm sure it makes for some "interesting" sessions at times!!!

Hope all's well with your Mom and Dad; they and you are in my daily prayers.

btdn said...

The profiles are much more interesting than the (Latin) profiles on the Order's international website!

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