Final trip to the mother ship

Some people in ‘s-Hertogenbosch stay up way too late! There was a lot of noise on the street last night until 4 a.m. Don’t these people have jobs? I think people must be taking advantage of the summer vacation season.

Today was the last day of the tour and our trip to Berne was wonderful. We were welcomed at the door by a couple of the Norbertines of Berne. They ushered us in and had coffee and cookies all set up just waiting for us. Maybe I’m coloring my own thoughts (probably) but the Prior bore a resemblance to Abbot Pennings. He was a tall Dutchman with glasses and I could see him in the Pennings statue I’ve passed on campus so many times before.

Berne Abbey
Berne Abbey

While we had coffee and cookies, the Abbot of Berne gave us a quick history lesson. The Norbertines founded Berne Abbey in 1134. The abbey took on its first parish in 1240 already. The community at Berne has always been a small one. At the moment, they have 45 confrères. During the Eighty Years’ War, the abbey was confiscated and in 1579, it was burned down. Even during periods where the Norbertines and the abbots were hiding, the order went on and as of now, it has existed for 875 years.

Getting a history lesson from the Abbot at Berne
Getting a history lesson from the Abbot at Berne

Our history with Berne collides in 1893 when Fr. Pennings arrived in De Pere. A Dutch-speaking gentleman was threatening Catholicism in the Door County peninsula area and the Berne Abbey was contacted by the bishop of Green Bay to send someone who could come and proclaim the truth in Dutch to the Belgian settlers. Abbot Pennings founded the priory of St. Norbert and the beginnings of St. Norbert College in 1898 and was the first abbot of St. Norbert in 1925. He served as the abbot and the president of the college almost until his death.

The Berne Abbey also founded abbeys in India and in Windberg, Germany.

The abbot expressed that one of their most important works is to live as a good community.

As we took our tour, you could clearly see which parts of the buildings were constructed during a certain time period. The style of the architecture was very diverse. The building had a castle part that was sort of medieval looking, a gothic church and a much more modern living quarters at the back. The tour revealed the deep history because many of the rooms in the medieval part of the building still had furnishings and décor from the earlier periods.

Church at Berne Abbey
Church at Berne Abbey

We had Mass with the community and again, several of our Norbertines concelebrated. They made it really special for us by having President Kunkel do one of the readings and by praying for us in English. When you’re participating in a Mass in the Dutch language and all of the sudden a language is spoken that you understand it has a huge impact.

After Mass, we dined with the community. The dining room was quite full and they really took care of us. I have had more ice cream on this trip than I care to think about.

Norbertines serving lunch at Berne
Norbertines serving lunch at Berne

The abbot and the prior walked us out to the bus and I got a little emotional as they waved us away. We honked the horn a couple of times and then we were off to Amsterdam, our final stop of the tour.

As we entered Amsterdam, the bus passed all kinds of impressive buildings that some people on the bus were able to identify as museums, opera houses, etc. I got really excited to have some time to explore the city tomorrow. We checked into our hotel just on the outskirts of town and it’s pretty neat. The lobby is filled with works of installation art and canvases that left me hopeful for a clean room. I was right!

When we boarded the bus for the final time to go to the restaurant, a tour guide named Hank joined us. I wasn’t expecting it at all and when this strange man appeared on the bus I was a little confused. It was a great touch for the end of the tour. He took us on a little route around the city and introduced us to other buildings and provided us with some background.

Hank told us that at one point the city of Amsterdam was nothing but a swamp and people decided to settle the area because it would be fertile.  During the 1500-1600’s, Amsterdam experienced its Golden Age, during which it was the staple of the commercial trading world. Now, there are about 740,000 people living in the city and they are comprised of more than 75 nationalities. The city of Amsterdam has more than 220 canals and 2,500 houseboats.

Houseboat on a canal in Amsterdam
Houseboat on a canal in Amsterdam

In Amsterdam there are 18 million bikes. They were zooming everywhere just like in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Hank told us that Amsterdammers just “borrow” each other’s bikes. People tend to lock their bikes up but many still get stolen. He said it wouldn’t be uncommon to have your bike stolen and run into it somewhere a year later. This whole idea of stealing bikes was so foreign to me.

We had a farewell dinner tonight at a little restaurant just around the corner from one of the canals in the city. They had gorgeous salads waiting for us and we were all eager to sit down and relax after a hot day. We had a great meal, conversation and we took a moment to give a big toast to Fr. Xavier and Fr. Jay for planning such a wonderful trip. There were so many little details to work out and many different personalities to accommodate for and they pulled everything off without a hitch.

It’s going to be a sad day on Thursday when I have to head home. I’m not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that this trip has turned out to be one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. I feel like I’ve grown in my own spirituality and I’ve definitely developed a much better understanding of communio and what it means for St. Norbert College to be a “Norbertine” institution. It was incredible to see the common thread of Norbertine values woven through so many different communities of men and women across each of the countries and regions we visited. Each community was so much more vibrant than I expected and they all work tirelessly in their own ways for the good of their communities and for the good of others. The inner peace I saw in these communities was also amazing to me. Needless to say, I’m proud to be an alum of the college and I continue to be excited about working to get the word out about how GREAT the college is!


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