Lessons In Remembrance

The Archmere Academy community ushered in November with a Mass on the first day of the month celebrating the Feast of All Saints. In recent years, to prepare for this month traditionally set aside in the Church as a time when we especially remember all those who have died, we have begun the tradition of asking members of our Archmere faith community to send us names of relatives and friends who have died, and for whom they would like included in our prayer intentions.

During this year’s Mass, we sang the Litany of the Saints, during which we remembered deceased members of Archmere families. In addition, a Book of Remembrance with a lighted candle was carried in procession to the altar along with bread and wine at the Preparation of the Gifts. The candle represented all alumni, and it was placed on the altar with six other candles, which represented the other constituencies of the school. The Book includes the names of all deceased alumni, faculty, and staff. It has been placed in a specially designed memorial in the newly-renovated Saint Norbert Oratory.

Mr. Bill Gabriel, Campus Minister, explained all of these actions to the assembly at Mass. As I watched and felt the reaction of the students, faculty, staff, and parents in attendance, I thought how much that hour of prayer and remembrance embodied the essence of Archmere’s strength, uniqueness, and ethos.

Remembering our heritage is something we do well, and it is important for our current students, faculty, and staff to know about our roots as a place of learning and growth. The month of November holds special significance in Archmere’s history.

SS Veendam

SS Veendam

On November 1, 1893, Father Bernard Pennings, Father Lambert Broens, and Brother Servatius Heesakkers left as missionaries on board the ship Veendam bound for the United States. From their home at Berne Abbey in Holland, these three men traveled to the Wisconsin frontier. They were asked by the Bishop of Green Bay to minister to the spiritual needs of the Dutch-speaking settlers in the remote, rural areas of Wisconsin by taking over small mission churches. This was a difficult assignment, since there was little, if any, infrastructure to support them in their ministry. Harsh weather conditions, miles of travel, minimal living conditions, and little financial support were all significant challenges they faced. Nevertheless, Abbot Pennings wrote with optimism on the morning of November 13, 1893, from Hoboken, New Jersey:

Thanks be to God, we are safe and sound on land again; over an hour ago, about 11 a.m., our feet touched dry land. All morning we have been admiring the beautiful shoreline …picturesque, with hills, and dales, villas and castles; all around us it was teeming with boats, large and small.

From that day forward, the Norbertine ministry in the United states grew under the guidance and vision of Father Pennings, who, with his confreres, wrote seven letters over the month of November – the first month of their great American adventure.

The three missionaries reached Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, and in his sixth letter dated November 24, Abbot Pennings wrote about the adventurous trip through the wilderness:

Sometimes the road was so bumpy that we and the luggage were catapulted into the air, and Father Lamberts and I burst out laughing…”

augustine_wiki

In addition to it being the 120th anniversary of Nobertines in America, November 13 is an important day in our school history for two other reasons. First, it is the birthday of Saint Augustine, born in 354 AD. After his conversion, he became a great bishop, writer, and founder of a religious order. Saint Norbert adopted the Rule of Saint Augustine – a way of community life – when he founded the Norbertine Order.

Second, November 13 is celebrated as the feast day of All Saints of the Norbertine Order. One of those saints, St. Siard, was the fifth abbot of Mariëngaarde. He was a good administrator and leader in both spiritual and material matters, and the apostolic spirit of the order thrived at Mariëngaarde under his leadership.

siard2-2

Whenever Siard went on a journey, he took along a large basket full of bread and other food to distribute among the poor. Because of this he is usually depicted with a basket at his feat. He had the gift of appeasing hatred and reconciling enemies. Siard urged three things upon the confreres who had to leave the monastery: a joyous departure, a peaceful sojourn, and a happy return. We celebrate St. Siard’s particular feast day on the day of his death, November 14, 1230.

November 13 also takes on special meaning this year as Daylesford Abbey in Paoli, Pennsylvania, celebrates its 50th anniversary. The histories of Daylesford Abbey and Archmere Academy became interwoven years before the Abbey was even established.

The Norbertine Fathers of Saint Norbert Abbey in De Pere, Wisconsin, founded Archmere Academy in 1932. They staffed and administered the school – originally a boarding and day school for boys. In addition to the Archmere educational venture, Abbot Pennings signed a contract on July 12, 1934, in which the Archdiocese of Philadelphia agreed to provide priests to serve as faculty members of a new diocesan school, Southeast Catholic High School for boys located at Seventh and Christian Streets in South Philadelphia. As both Archmere and Southeast Catholic grew, so did the local Delaware Valley community’s awareness of and affection for the Norbertine fathers.

Because of the Norbertine presence in the local community, there were a sufficient number of vocations to the Order by 1954. As a result, the Daylesford Priory was established in the former Cassatt Mansion on the Kelso Farms Estate in Easttown Township of Chester County, Pennsylvania. The estate was previously purchased by the Order in 1950, and it became the site of formation studies for novices – men joining the community to be ordained as priests. As numbers increased, the Norbertine community decided that Daylesford Priory should become an independent abbey. On November 13, 1963, new personnel were appointed and the official announcement of the membership of Daylesford Abbey was made – 70 years to the day after Abbot Pennings first stepped on American soil.

On behalf of the Archmere Academy community, I congratulate the members of Daylesford Abbey, their associates and friends, on such a joyous occasion. We are grateful for the years of administration and service given to Archmere by so many dedicated Norbertines.

Our history also includes John and Helena Raskob, who built the magnificent estate we now enjoy. In her Raskob-Green Record Book, Mrs. Raskob quotes an essayist:

When building, build forever – not for the present, but for such times as our descendants will thank us for. (p. 133)

The Raskobs had a vision for the future, not only evident in the architecture of their beautiful home, but also in their lasting philanthropic actions that have left a positive impact on the lives of future generations.

On November 11, we celebrate Veterans’ Day, a day of remembrance and prayer in honor of all those who served in the armed forces. This year, on saturday, November 9, we will dedicated the Armed Forces Tribute on campus, made possible by Mr. Larry Cylc ’73. The Tribute, along side the track and football field, is laid out in the shape of a five-pointed star with a flagpole at each point, flying the flags of the five branches of the armed forces. At the center of the star is the flagpole with the American flag. Our plan is to create a brick “Freedom Walk” leading up to the Tribute with the names of all alumni who have served or are serving in the armed forces. We know of many graduates who have served or are serving, but we would be grateful for our Archmere families to spread the word and be in touch with our staff to be sure we have a most comprehensive list of names.

On November 11, 1989, Father Justin Diny, O.Praem., fourth headmaster of Archmere Academy (1946-83), died. Since 1990, Father McLaughlin has celebrated a memorial Mass for Father Diny on the anniversary of his death. The 24th annual memorial Mass will be held in the newly-renovated Saint Norbert Oratory in Saint Norbert Hall at 3:30 p.m. on Monday, November 11. All are welcomed to attend.

In the Oratory, we have just finished the installation of nine stained glass windows that depict the life of Saint Norbert, the founder of the Norbertine Order and our inspiration today for living as a “Pentecost Community” – a community filled with the Holy Spirit, as were the apostles on that first Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection. Saint Norbert’s zeal and passion for a vision of life gave him the resilience and faith to persevere and be “prepared for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21).

As we look back and remember during this month of November, we also look to the future as we follow in the example of great people who have helped shaped the Archmere of today. And like the messages of the feast of All Saints and All Souls in the Church, we recognize all of those people who have contributed to a better life for all, yet who remain unknown to us but known to God as saints. We appreciate and honor them through the opportunities we have at Archmere to achieve a vision of the future with the same driving force that was behind their sacrifices and endurance.

An Old Order in a New World: Norbertine Tradition in America

One of my favorite summer activities is to catch up on reading that I put aside during the school year. The most recent book in my stack that I just finished is Dr. Jean van Stratum’s biography of Abbot Bernard H. Pennings, O.Praem., founder of the Norbertine Order in the United States.

Dr. Jean van Stratum (Rick Evans | The Compass)

Dr. Jean van Stratum
(Rick Evans | The Compass)

Before reading the biography, I knew the historical outline of the Norbertine missionaries’ arrival in the United States in 1893, and the subsequent founding of Saint Norbert Abbey and Saint Norbert College on the Fox River in De Pere, Wisconsin. But van Stratum’s work adds dimension and color to the outline of dates and accomplishments. He assembles stories of people with sometimes common, and sometimes different, visions about the role of the Norbertine community in the New World – stories of collaboration between religious and lay, stories of tension between religious tradition and interpretation of that tradition in Abbey religious life “in ministry” to early 20th century America. I could not help but think how these fundamental issues of “how we should live” are a part of our current thinking.

According to van Stratum, Abbot Pennings addressed a letter to Abbot General Crets in August 1932, asking his support of “two great enterprises.” One of those “enterprises” was the takeover of the Dutch parish of Saint Willebrord in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The other was the purchase of John J. Raskob’s Archmere estate to create Archmere Academy, a boarding and day school for boys. Van Stratum suggests that Abbot Crets felt positive about these Norbertine developments in America.

hagley digital archives john j raskob estate

John J. Raskob Estate, 1927
Dallin Aerial Survey Company

As headmaster of Archmere today, I found it particularly interesting, helpful, and humbling to try to gain insight into Abbot Pennings’ vision and style of leadership. On one hand, he accomplished extraordinary projects in administering parishes and establishing schools, thereby rooting the foundation of Norbertine communities in the United States. On the other hand, some of his confreres criticized his non-collaborative leadership style, and what they considered to be his lack of attention to the spiritual life of the Abbey.

Abbot Bernard H. Pennings, O.Praem.

Abbot Bernard H. Pennings, O.Praem.

A vibrant and well-respected figure in the Church and community, Abbot Pennings enjoyed a long life, singularly leading the Norbertine community until age 86. At that time in 1947, Abbot General Noots recommended that the community elect a Coadjutor Abbot to assist with the duties and responsibilities of the office and assure a smooth transition once Abbot Pennings could no longer serve as Abbot. The transition to a collaborative form of leadership was difficult for Abbot Pennings after so many years of being “in charge.” It was equally difficult for the Coadjutor, 42-year-old Abbot Sylvester Killeen.

I am sure that these were difficult conversations, just as they would be today. However, by reading and studying the dynamics between Abbot Pennings and his colleagues, we can learn about how to be more effective in similar present-day circumstances.

Abbot Sylvester Killeen, O.Praem. saint norbert college

Abbot Sylvester Killeen, O.Praem.

A significant issue that kept surfacing throughout Abbot Pennings’ term was the balance between communicating transparently while maintaining appropriate confidentiality. Managing these two opposite forces, at times, seems impossible – even for effective leaders today. What communities believe they need to know, should know, and want to know can be very different.

Consider that several members of Saint Norbert Abbey that were most critical of Abbot Pennings’ authoritative leadership style were raised and educated in a country with democratic ideals – concepts antithetical to the hierarchical models of the Church and European society. Certainly, Abbot Pennings’ charismatic leadership continued to be effective, but attentiveness to the voice of the growing community seemed to be an issue, particularly as its members became more informed through formal education, religious training, and work experience.

Did Abbot Pennings fail to adapt his communication and leadership styles to adequately address the concerns of the younger community members?

Perhaps he was aware of the need for change, but he simply did not know how to implement such a transition in leadership style. Van Stratum points to a 1949 letter from Abbot Pennings to confrere Alphonse Diedrich:

Reflection on what to do in the case that a new abbey would somewhere be established, he [Abbot Pennings] said that this should occur ‘always where people are, in or near a city.’ In the old times, as he continued, an abbey would be built in the country side ‘ but they had none or little active work – only to sing the office, but that was 700 to 800 years ago: no colleges, only some parish work. It is different today because Tempora mutantur et nos mutamur in illis.’ (Times are changing and we have to change with them). It sounded like the genuine if not lifelong conviction of the 88-year-old-man. (p. 369)

This duality of mission – monastic and ministerial – is something very Norbertine, and it is subject to varying degrees of interpretation. That interpretation depends on the vision of the Abbot elected by the independent Abbey communities, each influenced by its particular local, national, and international history and circumstances.

I experienced this on our 2012 Heritage Tour of Norbertine Abbeys in Belgium and France. While each community had uniqueness and felt “more” or “less” monastic, there was a common bond of confraternity and hospitality rooted in the Rule of Augustine as interpreted and lived by Saint Norbert nearly 1,000 years ago.

Similarly, Archmere Academy – founded by Norbertine Fathers, more specifically Abbot Pennings – has evolved over its more than 80-year history in its understanding of mission, governance, commitment to academic excellence, and Norbertine spirituality. With many lessons learned from the past, I am excited and hopeful that the members of the Archmere community are in contemporary dialog about these fundamental questions of purpose and relevancy that seem to be in constant evolution and change.

Perhaps Saint Norbert designed it to be that way.

bernard ardura

In Norbertine History and Spirituality, Fr. Bernard Ardura, O.Praem., claims that Norbert’s intention in establishing abbey communities after Premontre was not to build a hierarchical network of houses, which were tightly linked and managed by the founder. Rather, Norbert, with Hugh of Fosse, created a confederation of linked, but independent abbeys with the hope that their communities would grow and respond to the needs of their individual locales. Uniquely, members of the Abbey, in addition to their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, took an additional “vow of place” – a vow to be a member of that particular abbey community for life. This Vita Communis underscored the intentional uniqueness of each abbeys’ work that was to respond to the needs of the larger community, in which it was founded.

A missionary and pioneer, Abbot Pennings was raised in a 19th century, lower-middle class household in an under-industrialized Netherlands where every penny mattered. He was asked to found, grow, and lead a religious community in a New World where adaptation and amalgamation were critical for success. Drawing from his humble upbringing and life experience, Abbot Pennings proved to have the right mix of skills to make a lasting foothold in the then underdeveloped United States frontier. He founded and led a Norbertine community, enduring harsh Wisconsin winters, economic recession, religious schism, and language and cultural barriers.

Can we, as leaders of today’s Norbertine legacy, be as effective as Abbot Pennings in advancing the missions of our institutions? Can we be of the world and not in it, address the needs of our communities and “place,” demonstrate value and importance to exist within the larger international community?

I believe we can.

With the advantage of studying nearly a millenium’s worth of Norbertine successes and failures, we can extract the best lessons that our contemporary culture has to offer and effectively relate them to the unchanged, fundamental beliefs of our Catholic faith. By remaining open to the Holy Spirit, which directs and guides us in the present, we allow ourselves to be filled with God’s will rather than our own.

patio

The Patio at Archmere Academy

Last month, during the week-long Saint Norbert Leadership Corps Program, my wife and I were able to visit with two of my former Archmere teachers – Fathers Sal Cuccia and Steve Rossey, who now live at Saint Norbert Abbey. Father Sal works at the College in Campus Ministry. Annually, he brings his students to visit Archmere as part of their community service trip in working with the Daylesford Abbey initiative Bethesda Project for homeless men in Philadelphia. Father Rossey continues to be my aesthetic inspiration for the revitalization of The Patio.

As my first art teacher and founder of the visual arts program at Archmere, Father Steve is a wealth of knowledge, and he is an important resource for the development of a 21st century Patio that works effectively with the school’s future plans while also respecting the tremendous artistic and historic place it has in our national history.

Throughout the week, we made connections, fortifying relationships between Archmere, Saint Norbert College and Saint Norbert Abbey – Archmere’s founding Abbey. I think Abbot Pennings would have been pleased to see Archmere students being instructed by the faculty of Saint Norbert College.

A highlight of the tour was the students’ visit to the crypt under the Abbey Church where Abbot Pennings and Abbot Killeen are buried. Father Cuccia, in his wonderfully nostalgic teaching style, recounted stories about the history of the communities from Premontre and Berne Abbeys. The students were attentive, respectful, and I think, aware, that they were in a special place and part of a special history. It felt like an afternoon of family story-telling.

As lay men and women who have been entrusted with this wonderfully rich legacy of a millennial religious tradition, we need to work in collaboration with one another and with the ordained members of the Norbertine communities, both in the United States and abroad. As counter-cultural institutions, it is important that we support one another as school and abbey communities, sharing key strategies that are effective in sustaining and fulfilling our missions.

We can learn a lot from successful leaders such as Abbot Pennings while continually “re-learning” how to be in the world rather than of the world. Abbot Penning’s confreres criticized his strategy for balancing these opposing sentiments, but would we be the Norbertine presence in America that we are today without him?

Gothic Cathedrals to Gourmet Kitchens

Having just returned from a week-long immersion into the Nobertine Midwest culture of Saint Norbert Abbey and College in De Pere, Wisconsin, many ideas and images are circulating in my head. A short stop in Chicago on the return trip to engage Archmere alumni living in the area in an informal reunion added to the experience. It leads me to the question, “What is it about ‘Archmere’ that attracts so many to support the ‘idea’ in so many ways?”

Traveling from the airport to the city center of Chicago, my wife and I noticed so many steeples of churches, closely knit together in neighborhoods, each one so different in architectural style. Similarly, on a tour of Saint Norbert’s campus with Vice President for Academics Dr. Jeff Frick we saw two former Catholic churches. One was being transformed into a Womens’ Studies center, while the other church, completely renovated, was a concert hall. Formerly Catholic churches for specific ethnic immigrant groups, these beautiful buildings were repurposed with great care to provide new services to the 21st century community of Saint Norbert College.

As I thought about these images, I saw a tangible effect of our contemporary cultural transition from a church-centered, other-worldy, higher-order-thinking culture to a popular culture of immediate gratification. Along the ride into and out of Chicago, there were a number of homes that were being refurbished. I could not help but think of the HGTV show that highlights “miraculous” makeovers for couples and families moving into or remodeling existing homes. It always strikes me when newly married couples are looking for homes with granite counter-top kitchens, stainless steel appliances, and real hardwood floors. The kitchen and the home, in some ways, has become the “church of today,” with a focus on family life as the secret to happiness.

But what about the experience my wife and I had walking the Magnificent Mile? At practically every street corner, we encountered someone, usually a woman and her children, who was begging for help – money for a meal or a place to stay for the night. Walking in and out of the high-end stores with price tags we only laughed about, we wondered, “How do you spend $1,395 for a pair of shoes and simply walk by a beggar who is sitting on the sidewalk?”

I am not sure of the answer; I am sure that many people who shop in these high-end locales are also generous to philanthropic causes. At the same time, are we not asked the question, “And so what do you do in proportion to your own means?”

I often think of the comment that Jesus made to Judas when Mary Magdalene washed the feet of Jesus with perfumed oils:

For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me. (John 12:8)

Judas comments that the funds for the oils could have been used for the poor, but Jesus responds that what Mary had done was an act of faith and devotion.

I suppose we all struggle with this fine line of what is practical and what is over-the-top. Maybe the lesson learned is to not be so judgmental form the perspective that only we see. At the very least, we take from Jesus’ teaching that, as we express ourselves and our questions, we should do so in a manner that is non-accusatory and authentic. In this way, we may engage in good conversation that may transform a process, policy, or approach that previously had been considered the “best” method. We do not intend to put down another, rather build upon each other’s ideas and thoughts. My impression of Jesus in his dealings with the people around him is that he tried very hard to get various factions to communicate on common terms – the same thing that effective leaders are trying to accomplish today.

The Saint Norbert Leadership Corps program at Saint Norbert College was developed collaboratively between Archmere Academy and the College with the purpose of infusing our students with the leadership skills, rooted in the spiritual context of Norbertine Charism, to be successful in school and career. The program involved 39 students – rising Sophomores, Juniors and one Senior – and eight teacher chaperones. Students were presented with servant-leadership models that provided contexts for ethics and faith-based discussion. The goal was not for the students to leave the week-long experience with all the answers, but instead equipped with the tools to become mindful Catholic Christian leaders of the new century.

Personally, I was overwhelmed by the whole experience. My wife Diane and I stayed at Saint Norbert Abbey, while the students and chaperones lived in a residence hall on the College’s campus. Diane and I immersed ourselves in the daily rhythm of the Abbey with morning prayer at 7:30 a.m. and evening prayer at 5 p.m. We were fortunate to be able to attend the viewing of Father Gilbert, O.Praem., who taught at Archmere from 1955 to 1965. It was a most impressive event, and family and community were warmly welcomed at the Abbey.

On the heels of the recent sudden loss of Father Thomas Hagendorf, O.Praem., my Freshman religion teacher at Archmere, the experience reminded me how much like a family experience my Archmere years felt – both those as a student from 1972 to 1976 and as a staff member from 1984 to 1996. I said in my opening letter to the school community when I returned as Headmaster that Archmere is a “place that never leaves you.” I believe that even more after this past week. It is as if we have been tattooed on the heart with the Archmere charism. Once you have it, it is there until you intentionally burn it away.