Our visit to the Norbertine sisters

Today was another beautiful day in the Netherlands. The sun was shining all day and the weather was quite hot. The Norbertine sisters at Oosterhout were very happy to see us. We were welcomed with cookies and tea.

The Prioress Maria Magdelena joined our table and she was just delightful. She told us that there are 25 women in the order ranging in age from 31 to 93. The women have one novice and one other woman who has already taken her first vows and is on her way to becoming a member.  The prioress told us her vocation story and it was pretty interesting. Early in her life she intended to get married and have lots of children. Fate had a different plan and at 18 or 19, she started thinking about what God wanted her to do with her life. She read a book about religious orders that mentioned the Norbertines and the seed was planted. She did two retreats at the Norbertine community in a short period of time and got homesick for the Order. The rest as they say, is history.

Before we went on our tour the sisters offered us a chance to look at and purchase some of their crafts. The crafts ranged from postcards to jewelry and from religious icons to lace. In selling their crafts, they are able to make some additional income.

Sr. Norberta gave us a tour of the priory. She was really on her toes and full of good humor. We started the tour in the church where we learned that the nuns were at one time cloistered which meant they could have limited contact with their friends and family. They were allowed visitors but they were not allowed to touch them and they could not leave the priory, even to attend the funerals of loved ones. In 1968, their way of living changed and the sisters were no longer required to live behind the grills.

Church interior at Oosterhaut Priory
Church interior at Oosterhaut Priory

The sisters see their main job as to pray for the priests, the needs of the people and to Jesus and the Holy Mother.

The church was constructed as it stands today in 1966. I was amazed when Sr. Norberta told us the floors were heated and the books were digital. They’re pretty cutting edge in that regard. They also have a swimming pool to enjoy when the weather is nice.

A typical day for the sisters includes a morning prayer, afternoon prayer, evening prayer, work and meals. After their final meal of the day, they have recreational time where they use the pool, play cards or sit outside.

Sr. Roberta was happy to report that in general, there is more interest in religious life. The struggle they have is keeping the girls once they express interest. When hardship occurs in the transition, the women sometimes return to secular life.

The primary source of income for the sisters comes from the restoration of old books. They have a quite sophisticated and specialized operation wherein they repair the pages and encasements of ancient and/or damaged books. Sr. Norberta said humbly that they’re “world famous” for this trade. It offers them the chance to be creators of beauty like God.  This work is very delicate, time consuming and often expensive. The trade is something that they pass down from generation to generation so that the knowledge is preserved.

The priory was impeccably clean. You could tell that the community spends a lot of time on the upkeep of their quarters. This attentiveness extended outside too; the bushes were perfectly pruned and the gardens were well kept.

We joined the sisters for lunch. We had tomato soup and ham sandwiches. While we were eating, the nuns were constantly circling to make sure everyone was cared for. When Fr. Joel Garner had finished his soup, there was another bowl in its place before he could object.

After lunch we sat down with the sisters for their midday prayer and just over 20 of the sisters were there. The wide age range was very apparent as they all made their way into their stalls.

After lunch the prioress insisted on a group photo and after Mass, the prints of the photos were already available for sale. What entrepreneurs they are at Oosterhaut!

One of the sisters taking our photo
One of the sisters taking our photo

When we boarded the bus and drove away they were outside waving until we were out of view. It was really nice to be able to spend the day with them and see how the female Norbertine population lives.

It is 9:30 p.m. here now and it’s still bright as daylight out. Last night it was 10:30 before the sun set (no exaggeration). It makes trying to get to bed early a bit of a challenge.

Tomorrow we’re off to our last abbey of the tour, Berne. Berne is the mother ship, the abbey from which St. Norbert Abbey was founded. I’m interested to hear more about the history of Abbot Pennings and our foundation in De Pere.

Goede nacht!


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