History of the Norbertine Canons
On June 6 each year, the Catholic Church and St Norbert College celebrate Saint Norbert of Xanten – the founder of the Norbertine Order.
St Norbert started out as a frivolous and worldly cleric, but was changed by God’s grace into a powerful preacher and an important reformer of the Church during the early 12th century.
A brush with death caused him to reassess his life and at the age of 35 he heard God calling him to the priesthood.
His legacy of the Norbertine Order continues to flourish even though it is more than 800 years since his death in Magdeburg on June 6, 1134. Norbertine Canons in Europe, USA, Canada, South America, Zaire, South Africa, India and Australia are involved in all types of good works including Education, Parochial Ministry, University Chaplaincy and Youth Work.
St Norbert was born in Xanten in Germany in 1080 AD. He was the third son in his family which was wealthy and related to the emperor, Henry V.
Norbert, who was a brilliant student during his years of study, spent most of his early life enjoying the pleasures of the Imperial Court. At that time Church affairs were very much under the influence of the wealthy nobles who formed the government. Norbert came to realise that it was important for the preaching of the Gospel that the Church should be free from such influence.
Norbert’s conversion was characterised by the event of being thrown from his horse in a thunderstorm; an incident which similarly prompted St Paul’s change of heart. This conversion filled Norbert with the burning desire to make Christ known and he promptly changed from his former lifestyle and devoted all he had and all he was to God’s service. This meant a life of prayer and penance and subsequently Norbert was ordained a priest.
Norbert’s ministry of preaching culminated in his being sought out by Bishops to help reform the clergy of his day, so that they too might be effective ministers and preachers. Unfortunately, they were disturbed by this reform and found it difficult to change dramatically. They resisted all that Norbert attempted. Norbert’s preaching had attracted some followers, and with these he went to the valley of Prémontré, and thus became the first Norbertine or Prémontstratensian Community; a small group of people committed to the teachings of the Apostles, to the Eucharist, to prayer and to common life; ideals which Norbertine Communities still profess. So, at Christmas 1120 Norbert’s first followers put on the white habit of the Order. The Order grew quickly and within 30 years there were 100 abbeys of the Order in Europe.
In 1126 Norbert was appointed Archbishop of Magdeburg and Chief Bishop of Germany. He had a reputation for being a skilful and inspiring preacher and was also a person who tried to make peace between the many warring princes and people of the time, even to having his life threatened.
Tongerlo Abbey in Belgium was founded during St Norbert’s lifetime and it was from that Abbey in 1924 that Norbertines founded Holy Trinity Abbey, Kilnacrott, Ireland.
In 1959, three Norbertines from the Holy Trinity Abbey in Kilnacrott, Ireland made a foundation in Western Australia.
On 8 December, 1995 the Norbertine Canons at Queens Park became an independent community of the Norbertine Order – the final step in becoming a fully fledged ‘Canonry’. On that day the community elected its first Prior de Regimine – Fr Peter Joseph Stiglich O Praem.
St Norbert was a great devotee of the Eucharist and Our Lady. In all his efforts as peacemaker and preacher, he kept these two great devotions of the Church before him. It was once said of St Norbert that ‘he was prepared for every good work’. Norbertine Canons in Europe, USA, Canada, South America, Zaire, South Africa, India and Australia are involved in all types of good works including Education, Parochial Ministry, University Chaplaincy and Youth Work. Norbertines draw strength from their life of Common Prayer, Table, Chapter and Recreation to enable them to work among God’s people to build up the community of the Church.