Visiting Our Brothers in Wisconsin: Part One

I’m writing this blog from Saint Norbert Abbey in DePere, Wisconsin, right outside Green Bay. I first came here as a novice in 1961. Lots of memories.
Never having been farther from Philadelphia than the Jersey shore, everything seemed so different then.  The weather was terribly cold. It snowed around Thanksgiving and it never really melted until after Easter! The community was so large (Daylesford was not yet independent): we were 90 seminarians, some 25 priests and about 5 brothers living here. Many of us, including yours truly, went each day to Saint Norbert College (just two miles away; we had our own school bus that went back and forth several times a day). The day began at 5:05 in the Chapter Room, followed by Morning Prayer (Matins and Lauds) and Mass (of course, the liturgy was completely in Latin). All told, we spent about three hours a day in church – and then we had house jobs (a classmate and I did bathrooms twice a week), community gatherings (meals and recreation), along with carrying 15-18 undergraduate credits each semester (plus at least one summer session). Yes, I guess that was the plan: keep them busy and they’ll keep out of trouble.


We only got to go back East for three weeks in August and, since we only made a phone call if there was a family emergency, we wrote letters home each week. (It took just about a week for my letter to get to Philly and my Mom’s reply to get back here.) In those days, the novice master read both incoming and outgoing mail. (That’s just the way it was and I didn’t think much of it at the time.) One day, he called me into his office and asked why I signed my letters “Joseph”. I explained that my father was Joe and I was Joseph. He replied, “No, your name is now Frater Henry” (we received religious names when we received the white habit) and that’s how you should sign your letters”.  I knew this was a mistake, but he was the boss and so I did as I was told.  


Sure enough, a week later, before lunch (mail was distributed after lunch), the novice master called me into his office and said, “I’ve given it some more thought and it’s okay to use your baptismal name with your family”. Well, I could barely wait for mail call after lunch. As expected, there was a letter from my Mom (as always, already opened). The first line was perfect: “Dear Joseph (underlined), Your father and I gave the Norbertines our son, our only son, and we did it willingly – but we refuse to give them ‘your name’.”  (Good for you Mom, tell ‘em!)


To be continued …