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Norbertine Saints and Blesseds Bio’s

Sacred Norbertine ancestors cross many ages and nationalities — from the early members of the original community at Prémontré in France to the martyrs of the order in the Holy Land, and from the challenges of the reformation to the crises of the modern era.

Throughout and beyond the centuries-old existence of their order, outstanding Norbertine men and women of heroic virtue remain sources of edification, inspiration, and models for daily life.

Many disciples of Norbert attained sanctity and were drawn to his way of life, helping to further his ideals and values. Some followers left their high status as nobility and humbled themselves to found new houses of the order. Others used their talents as administrators, scholars, preachers and teachers, and still others simply served with generosity and humility.

As with every diocese and religious order of the Catholic Church, Norbertines fully celebrate the solemnities, feasts, memorials and ferial days as scheduled on the Roman calendar. Given the ancient traditions and influence of the Norbertine Order in nearly 900 years, we also honor our own Premonstratensian calendar of Norbertine saints and blesseds.

November 13 marks the memorial of all saints and blesseds of the Norbertine Order. In addition to Norbert of Xanten, the Holy See has confirmed 19 canons and canonesses. We celebrate their feast days throughout the course of the year within the liturgical calendar.

Norbertine Saints and Blesseds for January

St. Godfrey – January 14

Godfrey was born in 1097. His father was Count Godfrey of Cappenberg and his mother Beatrice of Schweinfurt. He married Jutta, daughter of the Count of Arnsberg.

In a quarrel between the bishop of Münster and the emperor, Godfrey sided with the bishop. But when Münster was beleaguered and destroyed in 1121, Godfrey was deeply disillusioned, partly on account of the behavior of his own soldiers, and he decided to turn his castle into a monastery. In the same year, he and his brother Otto met Norbert of Xanten, and Godfrey was deeply impressed by the apostolic life preached and lived by Norbert.

In the beginning, Godfrey’s wife, Jutta, and his brother Otto were opposed to his intentions. The greatest opposition, however, came from Godfrey’s father-in-law, the Count of Arnsberg. At a gathering in Utrecht, Count Frederick of Swabia joined Godfrey, who sold him two castles. On May 31, 1122, Godfrey was able to give Norbert the castle of Cappenberg.

The bishop of Münster blessed the monastery on August 15 the same year. This was the first foundation of the Order in Germany. Additional provostries were founded on Godfrey’s properties in Varlar and Ilbenstadt. Neither of the brothers, however, could enter “their monasteries” until 1124 because they first had to fulfill their duties of defense and, in Godfrey’s case, obtain the consent of his wife, Jutta. She later entered the monastery of canonesses in the lower monastery in Cappenberg. Godfrey stayed for the time being in Cappenberg, where he founded a hospital for the poor and served the poorest with great humility.

Norbert called both brothers to Prémontré in 1125 and they were ordained acolytes. When Norbert became archbishop of Magdeburg, he called Godfrey to his side in 1126. It was a great trial for Godfrey because he could not get used to life at the episcopal court and became ill. With the approval of Norbert, he went to Ilbenstadt. He died a few days after his arrival on January 13, 1127, scarcely 30 years old. Godfrey was a man of peace. During the altercation with his father-in-law, he expressed his wish to die as a martyr. In the last months of his life he often expressed his wish to die.

His relics were divided between Ilbenstadt and Cappenberg in 1148. Pope Paul V approved his veneration at Cappenberg in 1614 and Pope Benedict XIII extended it to the whole order on January 22/March 8, 1728. After the secularization, Emmanuel von Ketteler, bishop of Mainz, began promoting the veneration of Godfrey anew in 1862.

Almighty God, who strengthened St. Godfrey, so that, despising everything he possessed, he might happily attain to You, grant that we too, renouncing the riches of the world and its glory, may find our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

Saints and Blesseds for February

St. Frederick     February 4

Frederick Feikone was the son of a poor widow from Hallum in Friesland. His priestly vocation was already noticed in his early years and his pastor gave him his first Latin instructions. He studied the liberal arts and the Holy Scriptures at Münster. Frederick had a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. John the Evangelist and St. Cecilia.

Returning from Münster, he became a teacher and was ordained a priest. He was appointed assistant priest to the pastor of Hallum, whom he later succeeded. Frederick wished to build a hospital and asked bishop Godfrey of Utrecht (1156-1177) for permission to establish a monastery of canons after the death of his mother. Thereafter he went to the Norbertine abbey of Mariënweerd to learn as novice about the monastic life. Afterward, he wandered through cities and villages to gather companions. In 1163, he built a monastery church dedicated to the Blessed Mother, Mariëngaarde. At first the priests and nuns lived in the same establishment, but soon the sisters moved to Bethlehem. He then went to Steinfeld in order to join the foundation to the Norbertine Order. Frederick simultaneously served asa abbot, pastor of Hallum and rector of Bethlehem. A seminary for educating priests was attached to the abbey and became famous in a short time.

Frederick became ill while at the Norbertine convent of Bethlehem and returned to Hallum. In the church in which he had celebrated his first Mass, he also celebrated his last. After the Mass, he returned to the abbey to die. He said to his confreres, “Pray for me, because I could not care for the poor as much as I wished since the monastery was so poor.” He urged his confreres to follow the Rule and assured them that he would never abandon them as long as they would remain faithful. He died on March 3, 1175.

So many miracles occurred at his grave that the church of Mariëngaarde became a much-visited pilgrimage site. In 1614, during the rule of the Calvinists in Friesland, Abbot Nicolas Chamart took Frederick’s relics to Bonne-Espérance, where they were entombed in the abbey church in 1616. During the French Revolution, they were taken to Vellereille, and in 1938, during Abbot Bouvens’ term, to Leffe in Dinant. Pope Benedict XIII approved Frederick’s cult on January 22/March 8, 1728. His feast was transferred from the day of his death since this date often fell in the season of Lent.

Grant, we beseech You, Almighty God, that poor in spirit after the example of Your abbot St. Frederick, we may imitate Him who handed Himself over for the salvation of the world: Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

Blessed Hugues of Fosses    February 10

Hugh was born in Fosses-la-Ville toward the end of the 11th century. He became a cleric of the collegiate chapter of his hometown and later a court chaplain of Burchard, Bishop of Cambray.

Hugh met Norbert of Xanten in Valenciennes on March 26, 1119, and was so taken with his apostolic way of life that he decided to join him and became his first disciple. When Norbert was taken under the wing of the bishop of Laon after the Council of Rheims in 1119 at the request of Pope Callistus II, Hugh joined Bishop Burchard at Cambray again. Two years later in 1121, after the founding of Prémontré, Hugh returned to Norbert’s side and was named the first prior of the young community and became the “right hand” of Norbert.

After Norbert was appointed archbishop of Magdeburg in 1126, the confreres elected Hugh, at Norbert’s suggestion, to be the first abbot of Prémontré. He built the abbey church and the monastery. In order to preserve unity among the numerous foundations of Norbert, he called the superiors of the various houses to a meeting, out of which the General Chapter developed. He also compiled the first book of ceremonies with the liturgical directives of the order, and it is likely that he authored the ancient account of the life of Norbert, known today as “Vita Norberti B.”

Thanks to Hugh, an organizational structure was created, which made it possible for the order to last for centuries. He is honored as the first abbot general of the order. He played an essential role in the inner strengthening and rapid flourishing of the order. Under his guidance the number of the monasteries grew to 120.

As a superior, Hugh was mild and humble of heart but also very persistent. For 38 years, he was the father of his community and the guarantor of the unity of the order. Hugh died on February 10, 1164, and was buried in the abbey church in front of the altar of St. Andrew. Under Abbot General Egidius Biervliet, his remains were transferred to the front of the main altar in the abbey church in 1279. Abbot General Lescellier greatly embellished the tomb of Blessed Hugh in 1660.

After the suppression of Prémontré during the French Revolution, Hugh’s relics were transferred to Bassoles. Then, during WWI (from 1914 to 1918), they were kept in the cathedral of Laon, and from there were taken to the sacristy of the church of Brancourt. Because Brancourt was heavily damaged in the bombardments, the bishop of Soissons asked Prior Franken of Bois-Seigneur-Isaac to take the relics into his care. In 1922, Blessed Hugh’s remains were solemnly transferred to Bois-Seigneur-Isaac, where they rest to this day. Pope Pius XI confirmed the cult of Blessed Hugh on July 13, 1927.

Almighty eternal God, who are always calling new men so that they might make Your way known to others, we humbly entreat You through the merits and intercession of Your abbot Blessed Hugh, that by praying and working, we may build up Your people into one. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

St. Evermode    February 17

Evermode was born in the Belgian province of Henegouwen around 1100. After hearing a sermon preached by Norbert of Xanten, he was so struck by the personality and words of this apostolic man that he left everything to join him in 1120. He became one of the most loyal disciples of Norbert. He probably accompanied him to Antwerp, and later to Magdeburg. He was probably ordained a priest by Norbert himself and was certainly present when Norbert transformed the collegiate chapter of Our Lady in Magdeburg into a community of the order.

Evermode remained Norbert’s companion until the latter’s death on June 6, 1134. Evermode stood by his master on his deathbed and later took care to see that Norbert was buried in the church of the Norbertine monastery of Our Lady in Magdeburg.

When Emelric, the provost of Gottesgnaden, undertook a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Evermode was named vice-provost and provisor of the community. Evermode was provost at Gottesgnaden from 1134 until 1138. He adhered to what Norbert considered the stricter rule of St. Augustine, the ordo monasterii, and followed in Norbert’s footsteps in the areas of clerical reform and the conversion of the pagan Wends.

After its first provost, Wigger, became bishop of Brandenburg, Evermode was elected provost of Our Lady at Magdeburg, a post he held from 1138 to 1154. In this function, he founded the Norbertine monasteries of Havelberg, Jericho, Quedlinburg and Pöhlde. When the diocese of Ratzeburg was reestablished in 1154 (it had been totally destroyed by the Wends in 1066), Evermode became its first bishop and converted the newly installed cathedral chapter into a Norbertine chapter.

It was not easy for Evermode to be caught between the mighty Welf Prince Henry the Lion, prince of Bavaria and Saxony at the time, upon whom he was dependent both politically and financially, and Henry’s adversary, Archbishop Hartwig of Hamburg-Bremen, who claimed the rights of Metropolitan over Ratzeburg and was opposed in principle to bishops who were members of religious orders. Consequently, Evermode had himself consecrated bishop by Archbishop Arnolf of Mainz (probably on July 13, 1153). Prince Henry gave Evermode an island and castle for building the cathedral and monastery.

Driven by the apostolic ideal, Evermode traveled throughout his diocese preaching the Word and became for his people a light of truth. The conversion of the pagan Wends, who were a majority in his diocese, was his first concern and he preached missions to them himself in Noorwegen and Holstein. Future generations, even among the Protestants, gave Evermode the titles “Light of the Saxons” and “Apostle of the Wends.” His diocese was well organized and the members of the cathedral chapter were confreres of the order with the bishop as their provost.

Old and weakened by his many labors, Evermode died as bishop of Ratzeburg on February 17, 1178, after an episcopate of 24 years. He was buried in the presbytery of the Romanesque cathedral of Ratzeburg. Pope Benedict XIII confirmed his cult on March 20/April 12, 1728. Because Ratzeburg is in the diocese of Hamburg, founded in 1995, the three holy bishops, Evermode, Isfrid and Ludolph, were transferred from the calendar of the diocese of Osnabrück to that of the archdiocese of Hamburg.

Almighty eternal God, who made Your bishop St. Evermode a companion of St. Norbert and a faithful minister of Your house, we pray that we too, standing firm in our purpose, may be able to proclaim Your glory. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

Saints and Blesseds for April

St. Ludolph – April 26

Ludolph was a Norbertine canon at the cathedral of Ratzeburg, where for a time he held the office of provisor. He was elected bishop of Ratzeburg in 1236. He led such a strict religious life with his confreres in the shadow of the cathedral that his community was nicknamed the “prison of the order.”

Like a good shepherd he focused all his energies on the care of souls. He preached and made pastoral visitations. The pope entrusted him with several political missions. His most difficult trial as bishop involved standing up to the civil authorities: Ludolph was forced to fight for the rights and freedom of the Church. Prince Albert of Sachsen-Lauenburg, the “Bear of Saxony,” took possession of properties belonging to the cathedral, an act which Ludolph resisted. Insults and threats would not intimidate him. Albert consequently ordered Ludolph thrown into the dungeon, where he had to suffer severe torture. Realizing that his treatment of the bishop was unpopular, the prince decided to set Ludolph free. After his release from prison, Ludolph was brought half dead to Prince John of Mecklenburg and taken to the Franciscans at Wismar where he died a few days later on March 29, 1250.

After his death, numerous favors received were reported by those who visited his grave in the Cathedral of Ratzeburg. Ludolph is venerated as a “martyr for the freedom of the Church.” At the request of the confreres of Lorraine and Hohenburg, and of the Procurator General Norbert Mattens, the centuries-old veneration of St. Ludolph was confirmed and extended to the whole order by Pope Benedict XIII on March 20/April 12, 1728. The head of Ludolph was kept in the possession of the Norbertine nuns of Meer beginning in the 17th century. After the secularization of this convent, it came into the possession of Karl Albert von Beyer, the last abbot of Hamborn. Von Beyer in turn bequeathed the relic to the abbey of Averbode before 1842. On August 30, 1970, St. Ludolph’s head was returned to Hamborn. Because Ratzeburg is in the diocese of Hamburg, founded in 1995, the three holy bishops, Evermode, Isfrid and Ludolph, were transferred from the calendar of the diocese of Osnabrück to that of the archdiocese of Hamburg.

Lord God, who made St. Ludolph, bishop and martyr, a faithful herald of Your name, grant, we beseech You, that following in his footsteps, we may persevere untiringly in preaching Your Gospel to all and in building up the kingdom of Your charity. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

Norbertine Saints and Blesseds for May

St. Hermann Joseph  –  May 24

Hermann was born at Cologne around 1150. From his earliest childhood, he manifested a tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin. The Vita, written by his prior, recounts that he went daily to pray in the church of St. Mary of the Capitol in Cologne. One day he offered an apple before the statue of the Virgin and Child. Mary bent down so that the Christ Child could reach it.

Hermann was about 12 years old when he entered the Norbertine abbey of Steinfeld in the Eifel (located in the diocese of Cologne at the time, currently in the diocese of Aachen). He was sent to Mariëngaarde in Friesland for studies. Even as a young man he liked to practice strict penance. After his return to Steinfeld and his priestly ordination, he was appointed to serve in the sacristy and refectory.

In these manual labors he developed an extraordinary spiritual life and received numerous mystical gifts. He received the surname “Joseph” on account of a vision in which the Blessed Virgin accepted him as her betrothed. His childlike piety and frequent ecstasies caused misunderstanding on the part of the confreres, some of whom regarded him as a simpleton. Hermann Joseph was a model religious in the spirit of St. Augustine. He was humble and poor, and showed himself patient and friendly to everyone — especially to those who understood him the least. He was a model of obedience to his superiors and was always ready to serve his confreres.

Hermann Joseph wrote several hymns in honor of the Blessed Mother, St. Ursula and her Companions, as well as a commentary on the “Song of Songs” (which has since been lost) — all in a style full of feeling, which demonstrated this deeply religious man’s genuine poetic talent. He is one of the first who expressly honored the Sacred Heart of Jesus in a genuine mystical way based totally on the Holy Scripture.

He also was acclaimed for his dexterity in making and repairing clocks. Hermann Joseph was appointed spiritual director to the Cistercian nuns with whom he had regular contact. The nuns so prized his spiritual guidance that on one occasion they pretended that they needed their clock to be fixed — just so they could bring him to their convent again. During the final Lent of his life he was at the monastery of the Cistercian nuns in Hoven, a few miles from Steinfeld, where he became gravely ill and died on the Thursday after Easter, April 4, 1241.

His body was returned to Steinfeld in a solemn procession on the Tuesday after Pentecost, several weeks after his death. It now rests in a raised tomb in the middle of the church. His veneration began immediately after his death with numerous miracles reported at his tomb. His prior wrote his Vita, and devotion to Hermann Joseph continued to grow uninterrupted. On January 22/March 8, 1728, Pope Benedict XIII permitted his veneration and consecrated an altar in his honor in the “Collegio San Norberto” at Rome. His cult, which was alive for centuries, was formally recognized when Pope Pius XII gave Hermann Joseph the title of saint on August 11, 1958. St. Hermann Joseph is venerated in the Rhine region and in the Norbertine Order as Patron of children and of students.

O God, who promised Your kingdom to little children, grant that following in the path of St. Hermann Joseph we may hasten cheerfully and humbly to heavenly joy. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

Saints and Blesseds for June

SAINT NORBERT – JUNE 6

Norbert of Gennep was born around 1080. He was a secular canon at St. Victor’s Collegiate Church in Xanten and was ordained subdeacon without making an effort to live the clerical life. Somewhere between 1108 and 1109, he became chaplain at the court of Archbishop Frederick of Cologne, and already in 1110 he was a chaplain at the court of Emperor Henry V. He accompanied the latter to Rome in 1111 where there was great turmoil on account of the question of investiture.

Norbert returned to Germany very troubled. In 1113, he declined to accept the diocese of Cambray from the emperor.
In the spring of 1115, while riding to the village of Freden, he was thrown from his horse during a sudden thunderstorm. This event gave Norbert the impetus to change his way of life. He gave up his chaplaincy at the court and dedicated himself to meditation, under the direction of Conon, the reform-minded abbot of Siegburg. Finally, in December 1115, he was ordained deacon and priest on the same day. Before the ordination, he took off his expensive clothes and put on a humble sheepskin garment. Immediately after the ordination, he returned to Siegburg where he spent 40 days in prayer. He celebrated his first Mass at Xanten, where he informed the canons of St. Victor that he had a reform of the community in mind. However, his fellow-canons did not want to hear of it. Experiencing this rejection, Norbert withdrew and continued seeking advice from other reform-minded clerics, including a hermit named Ludolph, and the canons regular of Klosterrath at Rolduc.

After this he began his journey as a wandering preacher. Some admired his actions while others became perturbed and irritated. Norbert consequently had to justify himself at the Council of Fritzlar, where he decided to relinquish everything and resign his canonical title and all his benefices. He then started to lead the life of a pilgrim. In St. Giles in Provence, he was received in audience by Pope Gelasius II, from whom he received permission to work as an itinerant preacher. During the winter he went barefoot to Valenciennes, where two of his companions died of exhaustion and where he met Bishop Burchard of Cambray, his old friend at the imperial court. The chaplain of the bishop, Hugh of Fosse, was so impressed by Norbert that he asked to be allowed to join him.

Norbert attended the Council of Rheims in 1119, where the new pope, Callixtus II, asked his nephew, Bishop Bartholomew of Laon, to take Norbert under his protection. Norbert used this occasion to visit the famous cathedral school in Laon. At the request of the pope, he agreed to reform the chapter of St. Martin. However, this attempt of his was as unsuccessful as that of a few years back in Xanten. The bishop recommended that he look for a place in his diocese where he could settle. He chose the solitary valley of Prémontré, even though he continued his preaching apostolate. On one such occasion, Evermode of Cambray and Anthony of Nivelles followed him. After a sermon in Laon, seven young men joined him.

At Easter 1120, they all settled in Prémontré, where they were now 14. They chose the Rule of St. Augustine and considered themselves canons regular. On Christmas Day 1121, 30 men professed their solemn vows. They promised to live according to the counsel of the apostles, inspired by the apostolic community of Jerusalem, and they lived according to the spirit of the Gregorian Reform. They chose white unbleached wool for their religious garment instead of the usual black. Norbert justified this choice by the example of the angelic witnesses of the resurrection who were clothed in white. The celebration of the Mass was the center of the day. They had a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin, who was chosen patroness of their church. Beside the canons, a great number of lay brothers and sisters lived at Prémontré. They took care of the hospice, which Norbert established for the pilgrims and the poor. All these contributed to the reform of the Church.

After handing over the leadership of the community to Prior Hugh, Norbert went again on his journey of preaching. Before Christmas 1121, he went to Cologne to obtain relics for his new foundation. On his return journey, he promised the Count of Namur to establish an abbey in Floreffe. In the year 1123, Norbert was in Westphalia where Count Godfrey of Cappenberg gave him his castle to establish a monastery. Cappenberg was to be the first Norbertine monastery in German territory. At the request of Burchard of Cambray, Norbert went to Antwerp to preach against Tanchelm. There he founded the abbey of St. Michael. In 1125 he made a pilgrimage to Rome where he received papal confirmation for eight monasteries.

In 1126, the emperor called an Imperial Diet in Speyer to fill the vacant See of Magdeburg. Norbert was also invited. He was elected Archbishop of Magdeburg and he entered his episcopal city barefoot and in penitential attire on July 18, 1126. But as a bishop he had to make adjustments to his way of life. In his new position he had to put an end to abuses and to nullify the illegal sales of church property. Norbert began the task without delay or hesitation. His priority was the reform of the clergy. He brought confreres from Prémontré to Magdeburg and entrusted them with the Church of Our Lady. He also founded Norbertine monasteries in Pöhlde and Gottesgnaden. As shepherd of a diocese on the frontier of a great missionary territory, he geared his confreres toward the work of care for souls more than he had at Prémontré.

During his eight years as bishop, he could not accomplish all his plans. After his death, his confreres continued to labor for the conversion of the pagan Wends. In his last years, he was engaged in political activities in the service of the Church and the emperor. He was instrumental in restoring the peace between Emperor Lothar III and Pope Innocent II. He proved himself a stout defender of Pope Innocent against the antipope Anacletus. As chancellor of the empire, he accompanied Lothar to his coronation in Rome.

After returning to Germany, Norbert became seriously ill in Goslar. He was taken to Magdeburg where he lived three more months. He was able to bless the oils on Holy Thursday, but on Easter Sunday he could only celebrate the Mass sitting. The founder of the Norbertine Order, Norbert of Xanten, died June 6, 1134. He was buried in Magdeburg in the church of the Monastery of Our Lady at the altar of the Holy Cross. A few years later he was transferred to the choir. Pope Gregory XII canonized him on July 28, 1626. Magdeburg later came into the hands of the Protestants. The relics of St. Norbert were transferred through the efforts of Abbot von Questemberg in 1626 and later placed in a magnificent chapel in the abbey church of Strahov in Prague.

O God, who made our holy Father Norbert, Your faithful pastor, an outstanding herald of Your word and through him have called many to a conversion of ways: grant, we beseech You, that with the support of his merits and with Your help, we may imitate what he taught in word and in deed. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.
 

ST. ISFRID – JUNE 15

Isfrid was born around the year 1115 and later became a canon in the abbey of Cappenberg. In 1159, he became the first provost of Jerichow, where he built a magnificent Romanesque church. At the urging of Prince Henry the Lion, of Bavaria and Saxony, the sons of Norbert in Magdeburg had turned their attention to the conversion of the pagan Wends.

Through the intervention of Prince Henry, Isfrid was chosen as successor of Evermode, bishop of Ratzeburg, in 1178. He completed the erection of the cathedral that begun under Evermode and established many parishes. He also promoted the German colonization of the territory of the Wends. Toward himself he was inclined to be strict in penitential practices. Toward the rebellious Wends, however, he was a mild judge and attempted to convince and win them over through his preaching. In 1190, he visited the abbey of Floreffe, destroyed by a fire. According to Arnold of Lübeck, he succeeded in calling back the religious who had been dispersed in all directions for the previous year and a half; he restored the monastery and consecrated seven altars in one day. In the same year he also consecrated the Romanesque church of Postel, a daughter house of Floreffe.

In the struggle between the imperial party of the Staufs and the papal party of the Welfs, he sided, in spite of all threats and remonstrances, with the defeated Duke Henry of Saxony and Bavaria, to whom he once swore fealty. He remained the confessor and spiritual director of Henry the Lion, to whom he ministered at his deathbed in 1195. Isfrid defended the rights of his people against the intrigues of Emperor Frederick and his vassal, Bernard of Anhalt.

Exalted through many miracles during his life and after death, he was a true light in a time of much darkness. Isfrid died on June 15, 1204, at 89 years of age and was buried in the presbyterium of the Cathedral of Ratzeburg next to Evermode. The fame of his sanctity spread and his cult was approved by Pope Benedict XIII on March 20/April 12, 1728. Because Ratzeburg is in the diocese of Hamburg, founded in 1995, the three holy bishops, Evermode, Isfrid and Ludolph, were transferred from the calendar of the diocese of Osnabrück to that of the archdiocese of Hamburg.

 

Almighty eternal God, Your bishop St. Isfrid, refulgent with Your assistance, devoutly loved and strenuously defended Your Church; grant, we beseech You, that obedient to the holy Gospel, we may faithfully serve Your people. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

Saints and Blesseds for July

STS. Adrian and James

On July 9, 1572, the Calvinists hanged 19 priests and religious in Gorcum on account of their loyalty to the Catholic faith. Among these were two sons of St. Norbert, Adrian and James.

Adrian Jansen (sometimes called Becan after his place of birth) was born at Hilvarenbeek in 1529 and entered the abbey of Middelburg at the age of 15. After a stint as master of novices and chaplain, he was appointed pastor of Agterkerke in 1560 and of Munster in 1572. Adrian was an exemplary priest and a true apostle, laboring in a parish which already counted several Calvinists among its population.

James Lacops, also a canon of Middelburg, was born at Oudenaarde in 1542. He was an intelligent and charming young man whose success went to his head. His religious life was mediocre. When the iconoclastic Calvinists infiltrated the abbey in 1566, the 24-year-old James renounced his faith together with two others. His father and his brother, who also was a Norbertine, eventually brought him to reconsider. Touched by the grace of God, he returned to the abbey and was kindly received by the community when he asked forgiveness for his apostasy. Among other things, he had gone so far as to write a pamphlet attacking the Church and had become a preacher of the Calvinist beliefs. His abbot sent him to the abbey of Mariëweerd for a prolonged period of penance. At the end of five years, the abbot appointed him curate in Munster where his brother was currently pastor. After the death of his brother in 1572, Adrian Jansen was appointed pastor.

Adrian had only been there three months when revolutionary soldiers attacked the rectory and captured both priests in July 1572. Together with 17 other priests and religious, they were marched through the streets while beaten and insulted, accompanied by a screaming mob. Along the way the soldiers offered local fishermen to set the priests free in exchange for a cask of beer, an offer which the highly Calvinistic locals refused. The 19 priests and religious were thrown into prison and subjected to a trial during which they defended the doctrine of the Eucharist and the authority of the Successor of Peter. Although Adrian was more experienced in refuting the arguments of the heretics, it was now James, with his gift for speaking, who took the lead in arguing with their captors. They were mistreated, tortured, and denied food. On July 9, 1572, both Adrian and James, together with the other 17 priests and religious, were hanged from the rafters of a barn at Gorcum and received the crown of martyrdom. Adrian was 43 and James 30. They were beatified by Pope Clement X on November 24, 1675, and canonized by Blessed Pius IX on June 29, 1867.

Lord, our God, who caused Your holy martyrs Adrian, James, and their companions to persevere to the end; make us remain in You in faith and charity and pursue the unity of the Church. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

Blessed Hroznata

The Czech nobleman Hroznata was born around 1170 and received after the early death of his father a good education at Krakow, where his sister, Woyslawa, was the wife of the prefect of the city. The young talented man married but soon lost his wife and his son. In place of a legal heir he founded the monastery of Teplá as his spiritual heir in 1193.
When the papal legate encouraged the knights to participate in the crusades, Hroznata promised to go to the Holy Land in order to liberate the holy places. He made the journey with the crusaders to Brindisi and passed through Rome, where the pope confirmed the foundation of Teplá. Since the crusade failed in 1197 the pope dispensed Hroznata from his vow concerning the crusades on his way back from Southern Italy and encouraged him to found a sister monastery. Together with his widowed sister he established a cloister for nuns in Chotešov around 1202. Hroznata even becomes a religious in Teplá.
The traditions relay that he was clothed at Rome by Pope Innocent III in the white habit of the Norbertine Order. Because of his expertise in a variety of areas, Abbot John appointed him substitute and administrator of the monastery properties. With all his strength, Hroznata fought for the cause of the abbey. His efforts were a thorn in the side for the enemies of the monastery. Hroznata was captured and imprisoned in 1217. Because he refused to allow the abbey to pay his ransom, his captors let him die of hunger in prison.
After his death, the confreres of Teplá were able to secure his body and buried it in the abbey church in front of the high altar. He is honored as a “saint” because of his love of neighbor, his humility and his martyrdom. His relics were exhumed and placed in a precious reliquary in the new Hroznata chapel. Already in the 13th century the vita fratris Hroznatae had been written. Pope Leo XIII confirmed his veneration as “blessed” on September 16, 1897, and 100 years later, Pope John Paul II declared him patron of the newly erected Czech diocese of Plzen on March 3, 1997. The Order now looks forward to his canonization.
Lord God, who called Your holy martyr Hroznata to be a follower of Christ crucified, make us able, we beseech You, to deny ourselves and so to enter into the glory of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

Saints and Blesseds for August

BL. GERTRUDE – August 13

Gertrude was the daughter of Count Louis of Thuringia and Hesse and St. Elizabeth of Hungary. She was dedicated to God from the womb by her father as he prepared to depart for the Crusades in 1227. Louis offered the unborn child to the Premonstratensian Canons of Rommersdorf if a boy, or the Premonstratensian Canonesses of Altenberg near Wetzlar if a girl. Gertrude was born on September 29, 1227, a few weeks after Louis died in the Crusades. Her mother, Elizabeth, who wished to devote the rest of her life to prayer and the service of the poor, kept her husband’s vow by entrusting Gertrude to Altenberg.

Though Elizabeth died within a few years of Gertrude’s birth, she was remembered by the community of Altenberg for her visits, during which she spun wool with the sisters. The 8-year-old Gertrude was brought from Altenberg to Marburg to attend her mother’s canonization in May 1235. Altenberg became prominent among the religious houses most active in promoting the cult of St. Elizabeth. Gertrude received her entire education at Altenberg and became the third prioress of the monastery at age 24. Using her inheritance, Gertrude built the monastery church after the Gothic style of the church at Marburg. She also built a hospital and guesthouse for the poor, following the example of her mother who had demonstrated her love of Christ by caring for the poor and sick. While washing the sick Gertrude was reported to say: “How beautiful it is that we are allowed to bathe the Savior!”

When Pope Urban IV renewed the call for a crusade, Gertrude became a zealous advocate of this endeavor. Together with the sisters of the monastery and many noble ladies, she collected money for the outfitting of the crusaders. When the feast of Corpus Christi was introduced to the universal Church by a Bull of Pope Urban IV in 1264, the new feast met with widespread resistance, remaining a dead letter for 50 years in many places, including Rome itself. Gertrude introduced the feast at Altenberg already in 1270, where it was celebrated with the greatest solemnity, thus becoming one of the first to introduce the new Eucharistic feast. In everyday life, Gertrude took care of the needs of the poorest, both in the hospital and the monastery. She had the gift of reconciling people upon whom she implored the Divine Mercy through penance and mortification. She was 69 years old when she died after a serious illness on August 13, 1297, having led her community for 50 years. She was buried in the monastery church of Altenberg.

Pope Clement V granted indulgences on her day of death and allowed her veneration in 1311 (the authenticity of this Bull has been questioned by some). Her cult as a blessed was definitively confirmed by Pope Benedict XIII on January 22/March 8, 1728. The Lutheran deaconesses who now inhabit the cloister of Altenberg retain a profound veneration for Blessed Gertrude to this day.

Lord, our God, whose will the holy virgin Gertrude faithfully fulfilled, grant that we, eagerly following her example, may experience You as our Father in heaven, and Your Son as our Brother accompanying us in our life. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

BL. BRONISLAVA – August 30

Bronislava was born at the castle of Kamien in Upper Silesia in 1203. Her family was of Polish origin and was devoted to the Gregorian reform movement. She grew up in an atmosphere deeply influenced by the Crusades, and devotion to the Holy Cross would characterize her entire life.

She was 16 years old when she entered the cloister of the Norbertine nuns at Zwierzyniec in Krakow, a convent founded by her maternal grandfather. Bronislava’s devout prayer, her meditation on the Passion of Christ, and her veneration of the Holy Cross left a deep impression on her contemporaries. When the Tartars invaded Krakow in 1241, Bronislava, holding the cross in her hand, encouraged her sisters with the words, “Do not be afraid, the cross will save us.” The barbarians left behind a track of misery. In the same year, the pestilence also ravaged this region. In every difficult challenge, Bronislava, supported by her sisters, was an “angel of consolation” to the people in their need. The population considered her their patroness on whom they could count when they needed protection. Her help and protection was the cross, and she is therefore often represented as praying before Jesus Crucified.

During her grave afflictions, she withdrew to the solitude of the hill of Sikornik where she entrusted her troubles and the troubles of her fellow men to the mercy of God. She saw her cousin, the Dominican St. Hyacinth, in a vision at the time of his death on August 15, 1257, as he went to heaven holding the hand of the Blessed Virgin.

Bronislava died on August 29, 1259. Her body was taken to the convent church and she was invoked as a saint. Her relics were placed in a precious reliquary and were carried in solemn procession each year on the anniversary of her death. Pope Gregory XVI declared her blessed on August 23, 1839. The efforts of the Polish bishops toward the canonization of Bronislava in 1947 at Pope Pius XII were delayed by 40 years of Communist rule.

Almighty, eternal God. You call those who are weak in this world, to confound those who are strong. Help us, through the intercession of Blessed Bronislava, so that, notwithstanding our weaknesses, we may cooperate in the building of Your kingdom. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Bl. Jakob (James) Kern of Geras – October 20

Francis Alexander Kern was born in Vienna on April 11, 1897. At age 11, the intellectually-gifted youth enrolled in the Minor Seminary at Hollabrunn. At age 14, he made a vow of perpetual chastity.

Francis enlisted as a volunteer in the army during World War I. In September of 1916, as a lieutenant on the Italian Front, a bullet pierced his lung and caused a wound from which he would never fully recover. He entered the seminary of the archdiocese of Vienna as a convalescent.

Around this time, a group of Czech Catholics separated themselves from Rome and founded the schismatic Czech National Church. A Norbertine canon of Strahov Abbey and a doctor of philosophy fell away from the Church and became a leader of the schism. James was deeply shocked and decided to offer himself in atonement. Pope John Paul II would later say, “In this sad event, James Kern discovered his vocation. He desired to be the propitiatory sacrifice for this fallen-away Norbertine. James entered the abbey of Geras to replace him in the order.” On October 18, 1920, James received the white habit.

Having been put to the test by his war injury, he took religious life very seriously. Through a special indult, given in view of his poor health, he was ordained a priest. At his first Mass he said, “This Palm Sunday will be followed by my Good Friday.”

In 1923 some of his ribs were removed using only a local anesthetic and his Way of the Cross began. In his festering wound, he remembered the wound of the Czech schism. On the day he was to profess Solemn Vows, he underwent surgery again. Before the operation he said, “Tomorrow I will see the Mother of God and my Guardian Angel.” The hospital chaplain gave him the Last Rites and blessed him for the final leg of his earthly journey. James Kern died on October 20, 1924.

Large groups of the faithful came to his grave in Geras to pray and to ask for his intercession. Pope John Paul II beatified James Kern on June 21, 1998, at Vienna’s “Heroes’ Square.” More than one hundred Norbertines joined the thousands present for this celebration, during which the Pope encouraged priests to follow this “Hero of the Church” and remain faithful to their vocation.

 St. Gilbert of Neuffontaines – October 26

The knight Gilbert belonged to the nobility of Auvergne in France. Following the advice of the Norbertine abbot of Dilo, he participated in the Second Crusade (1147-1149), which was preached by St. Bernard of Clairvaux at Vezelay and led by the French king Louis VII. This crusade ended in military disaster.

Having survived this dangerous endeavor, Gilbert decided, together with his wife Petronilla and his daughter Ponzia, to dedicate himself to God and enter monastic life. He distributed his considerable wealth to the poor and founded a convent, which his wife and daughter entered.

At first Gilbert lived as a hermit. Then, after completing his novitiate in the Norbertine abbey of Dilo, he founded the abbey of Neuffontaines around 1150 and became its first abbot. He also built a hospital attached to the abbey, which became famous because of the many miracles that occurred there. Penitent and filled with compassion, he cared for a great number of sick and sinful people, whom he wished to heal both spiritually and physically. Many children with severe sicknesses were brought to him. He laid his hands on them and gave them back to their parents healed. This gave rise to the later custom of parents bringing their sick children to Neuffontaines seeking St. Gilbert’s intercession for healing.

Gilbert died on June 5, 1152, worn out by penance and hard work. He had expressed his desire to be buried in the cemetery of the poor. However, because of the many miracles that God worked through his intercession, his earthly remains were eventually transferred to the abbey church of Neuffontaines, and after being lost for a time were later rediscovered in October of 1615. The relics were transferred for greater safety in 1791, and again lost during the tumult of the French Revolution. St. Gilbert’s feast day falls on the anniversary of his translation. Pope Benedict XIII confirmed the veneration of St. Gilbert on January 22, 1728.

 St. Siard of Mariëngaarde – November 14

Siard was born into a noble family of Friesland in the Netherlands. He studied in the abbey school of Mariëngaarde where St. Frederic was abbot. In 1175 he entered the novitiate. After 20 years of religious life he was elected the fifth abbot of Mariëngaarde.

Nothing in his daily life distinguished him from his confreres. He wore the same habit, ate at the same table, and slept in the same dormitory. On account of his exceptional humility, he resolutely refused everything that was not strictly necessary. He was a good administrator who governed his monastery well—both in spiritual and material matters. Siard worked side by side with his confreres during the periods of manual labor, especially in the fields.

The apostolic spirit of the order thrived at Mariëngaarde under his leadership. Whenever Siard went on a journey, he took along a large basket full of bread and other foods that he could distribute among the poor. He had the gift of pacifying hatred and reconciling enemies. He urged three things upon the confreres who had to leave the monastery: a joyous departure, a peaceful sojourn, and a happy return.

Siard had a special devotion to Jesus’ friends Martha and Mary. He looked to Martha as an example for his care of the confreres, and to Mary as a reminder of the necessity of listening to Christ in prayer and meditation. Siard died in 1230, having been abbot for 36 years.

After the destruction of Mariëngaarde by the Calvinists in 1578, a Friesland nobleman rescued his earthly remains. In 1608 his relics were divided and placed in two separate reliquaries: one was transferred to the Norbertine abbey of Leffe, the other to Tongerlo, both in Belgium. The relic of Siard’s head found a home in the Generalate House in Rome until 2001, when it was transferred to the abbey of Windberg. Pope Benedict XIII confirmed the cult of St. Siard on January 22, 1728.

God, who made Your saints to obey the Gospel as an example for many; grant, we beseech You, that we may imitate the cheerful goodness and devout piety of the blessed abbot Siard. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

St. Evermode (February 17)

Evermode was born in the Belgian province of Henegouwen around 1100. After hearing a sermon preached by Norbert of Xanten, he was so struck by the personality and words of this apostolic man that he left everything to join him in 1120. He became one of the most loyal disciples of Norbert. He probably accompanied him to Antwerp, and later to Magdeburg. He was probably ordained a priest by Norbert himself and was certainly present when Norbert transformed the collegiate chapter of Our Lady in Magdeburg into a community of the order.

Evermode remained Norbert’s companion until the latter’s death on June 6, 1134. Evermode stood by his master on his deathbed and later took care to see that Norbert was buried in the church of the Norbertine monastery of Our Lady in Magdeburg.

When Emelric, the provost of Gottesgnaden, undertook a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Evermode was named vice-provost and provisor of the community. Evermode was provost at Gottesgnaden from 1134 until 1138. He adhered to what Norbert considered the stricter rule of St. Augustine, the ordo monasterii, and followed in Norbert’s footsteps in the areas of clerical reform and the conversion of the pagan Wends.

After its first provost, Wigger, became bishop of Brandenburg, Evermode was elected provost of Our Lady at Magdeburg, a post he held from 1138 to 1154. In this function, he founded the Norbertine monasteries of Havelberg, Jericho, Quedlinburg and Pöhlde. When the diocese of Ratzeburg was reestablished in 1154 (it had been totally destroyed by the Wends in 1066), Evermode became its first bishop and converted the newly installed cathedral chapter into a Norbertine chapter.

It was not easy for Evermode to be caught between the mighty Welf Prince Henry the Lion, prince of Bavaria and Saxony at the time, upon whom he was dependent both politically and financially, and Henry’s adversary, Archbishop Hartwig of Hamburg-Bremen, who claimed the rights of Metropolitan over Ratzeburg and was opposed in principle to bishops who were members of religious orders. Consequently, Evermode had himself consecrated bishop by Archbishop Arnolf of Mainz (probably on July 13, 1153). Prince Henry gave Evermode an island and castle for building the cathedral and monastery.

Driven by the apostolic ideal, Evermode traveled throughout his diocese preaching the Word and became for his people a light of truth. The conversion of the pagan Wends, who were a majority in his diocese, was his first concern and he preached missions to them himself in Noorwegen and Holstein. Future generations, even among the Protestants, gave Evermode the titles “Light of the Saxons” and “Apostle of the Wends.” His diocese was well organized and the members of the cathedral chapter were confreres of the order with the bishop as their provost.

Old and weakened by his many labors, Evermode died as bishop of Ratzeburg on February 17, 1178, after an episcopate of 24 years. He was buried in the presbytery of the Romanesque cathedral of Ratzeburg. Pope Benedict XIII confirmed his cult on March 20/April 12, 1728. Because Ratzeburg is in the diocese of Hamburg, founded in 1995, the three holy bishops, Evermode, Isfrid and Ludolph, were transferred from the calendar of the diocese of Osnabrück to that of the archdiocese of Hamburg.

Almighty eternal God, who made Your bishop St. Evermode a companion of St. Norbert and a faithful minister of Your house, we pray that we too, standing firm in our purpose, may be able to proclaim Your glory. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

Bl. Hugh (February 10)

Hugh was born in Fosses-la-Ville toward the end of the 11th century. He became a cleric of the collegiate chapter of his hometown and later a court chaplain of Burchard, Bishop of Cambray.

Hugh met Norbert of Xanten in Valenciennes on March 26, 1119, and was so taken with his apostolic way of life that he decided to join him and became his first disciple. When Norbert was taken under the wing of the bishop of Laon after the Council of Rheims in 1119 at the request of Pope Callistus II, Hugh joined Bishop Burchard at Cambray again. Two years later in 1121, after the founding of Prémontré, Hugh returned to Norbert’s side and was named the first prior of the young community and became the “right hand” of Norbert.

After Norbert was appointed archbishop of Magdeburg in 1126, the confreres elected Hugh, at Norbert’s suggestion, to be the first abbot of Prémontré. He built the abbey church and the monastery. In order to preserve unity among the numerous foundations of Norbert, he called the superiors of the various houses to a meeting, out of which the General Chapter developed. He also compiled the first book of ceremonies with the liturgical directives of the order, and it is likely that he authored the ancient account of the life of Norbert, known today as “Vita Norberti B.”

Thanks to Hugh, an organizational structure was created, which made it possible for the order to last for centuries. He is honored as the first abbot general of the order. He played an essential role in the inner strengthening and rapid flourishing of the order. Under his guidance the number of the monasteries grew to 120.

As a superior, Hugh was mild and humble of heart but also very persistent. For 38 years, he was the father of his community and the guarantor of the unity of the order. Hugh died on February 10, 1164, and was buried in the abbey church in front of the altar of St. Andrew. Under Abbot General Egidius Biervliet, his remains were transferred to the front of the main altar in the abbey church in 1279. Abbot General Lescellier greatly embellished the tomb of Blessed Hugh in 1660.

After the suppression of Prémontré during the French Revolution, Hugh’s relics were transferred to Bassoles. Then, during WWI (from 1914 to 1918), they were kept in the cathedral of Laon, and from there were taken to the sacristy of the church of Brancourt. Because Brancourt was heavily damaged in the bombardments, the bishop of Soissons asked Prior Franken of Bois-Seigneur-Isaac to take the relics into his care. In 1922, Blessed Hugh’s remains were solemnly transferred to Bois-Seigneur-Isaac, where they rest to this day. Pope Pius XI confirmed the cult of Blessed Hugh on July 13, 1927.

Almighty eternal God, who are always calling new men so that they might make Your way known to others, we humbly entreat You through the merits and intercession of Your abbot Blessed Hugh, that by praying and working, we may build up Your people into one. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

St. Frederick (February 4)

Frederick Feikone was the son of a poor widow from Hallum in Friesland. His priestly vocation was already noticed in his early years and his pastor gave him his first Latin instructions. He studied the liberal arts and the Holy Scriptures at Münster. Frederick had a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. John the Evangelist and St. Cecilia.

Returning from Münster, he became a teacher and was ordained a priest. He was appointed assistant priest to the pastor of Hallum, whom he later succeeded. Frederick wished to build a hospital and asked bishop Godfrey of Utrecht (1156-1177) for permission to establish a monastery of canons after the death of his mother. Thereafter he went to the Norbertine abbey of Mariënweerd to learn as novice about the monastic life. Afterward, he wandered through cities and villages to gather companions. In 1163, he built a monastery church dedicated to the Blessed Mother, Mariëngaarde. At first the priests and nuns lived in the same establishment, but soon the sisters moved to Bethlehem. He then went to Steinfeld in order to join the foundation to the Norbertine Order. Frederick simultaneously served asa abbot, pastor of Hallum and rector of Bethlehem. A seminary for educating priests was attached to the abbey and became famous in a short time.

Frederick became ill while at the Norbertine convent of Bethlehem and returned to Hallum. In the church in which he had celebrated his first Mass, he also celebrated his last. After the Mass, he returned to the abbey to die. He said to his confreres, “Pray for me, because I could not care for the poor as much as I wished since the monastery was so poor.” He urged his confreres to follow the Rule and assured them that he would never abandon them as long as they would remain faithful. He died on March 3, 1175.

So many miracles occurred at his grave that the church of Mariëngaarde became a much-visited pilgrimage site. In 1614, during the rule of the Calvinists in Friesland, Abbot Nicolas Chamart took Frederick’s relics to Bonne-Espérance, where they were entombed in the abbey church in 1616. During the French Revolution, they were taken to Vellereille, and in 1938, during Abbot Bouvens’ term, to Leffe in Dinant. Pope Benedict XIII approved Frederick’s cult on January 22/March 8, 1728. His feast was transferred from the day of his death since this date often fell in the season of Lent.

Grant, we beseech You, Almighty God, that poor in spirit after the example of Your abbot St. Frederick, we may imitate Him who handed Himself over for the salvation of the world: Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

St. Godfrey (January 14)

Godfrey was born in 1097. His father was Count Godfrey of Cappenberg and his mother Beatrice of Schweinfurt. He married Jutta, daughter of the Count of Arnsberg.

In a quarrel between the bishop of Münster and the emperor, Godfrey sided with the bishop. But when Münster was beleaguered and destroyed in 1121, Godfrey was deeply disillusioned, partly on account of the behavior of his own soldiers, and he decided to turn his castle into a monastery. In the same year, he and his brother Otto met Norbert of Xanten, and Godfrey was deeply impressed by the apostolic life preached and lived by Norbert.

In the beginning, Godfrey’s wife, Jutta, and his brother Otto were opposed to his intentions. The greatest opposition, however, came from Godfrey’s father-in-law, the Count of Arnsberg. At a gathering in Utrecht, Count Frederick of Swabia joined Godfrey, who sold him two castles. On May 31, 1122, Godfrey was able to give Norbert the castle of Cappenberg.

The bishop of Münster blessed the monastery on August 15 the same year. This was the first foundation of the Order in Germany. Additional provostries were founded on Godfrey’s properties in Varlar and Ilbenstadt. Neither of the brothers, however, could enter “their monasteries” until 1124 because they first had to fulfill their duties of defense and, in Godfrey’s case, obtain the consent of his wife, Jutta. She later entered the monastery of canonesses in the lower monastery in Cappenberg. Godfrey stayed for the time being in Cappenberg, where he founded a hospital for the poor and served the poorest with great humility.

Norbert called both brothers to Prémontré in 1125 and they were ordained acolytes. When Norbert became archbishop of Magdeburg, he called Godfrey to his side in 1126. It was a great trial for Godfrey because he could not get used to life at the episcopal court and became ill. With the approval of Norbert, he went to Ilbenstadt. He died a few days after his arrival on January 13, 1127, scarcely 30 years old. Godfrey was a man of peace. During the altercation with his father-in-law, he expressed his wish to die as a martyr. In the last months of his life he often expressed his wish to die.

His relics were divided between Ilbenstadt and Cappenberg in 1148. Pope Paul V approved his veneration at Cappenberg in 1614 and Pope Benedict XIII extended it to the whole order on January 22/March 8, 1728. After the secularization, Emmanuel von Ketteler, bishop of Mainz, began promoting the veneration of Godfrey anew in 1862.

Almighty God, who strengthened St. Godfrey, so that, despising everything he possessed, he might happily attain to You, grant that we too, renouncing the riches of the world and its glory, may find our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

St. Ludolph (April 26)

Ludolph was a Norbertine canon at the cathedral of Ratzeburg, where for a time he held the office of provisor. He was elected bishop of Ratzeburg in 1236. He led such a strict religious life with his confreres in the shadow of the cathedral that his community was nicknamed the “prison of the order.”

Like a good shepherd he focused all his energies on the care of souls. He preached and made pastoral visitations. The pope entrusted him with several political missions. His most difficult trial as bishop involved standing up to the civil authorities: Ludolph was forced to fight for the rights and freedom of the Church. Prince Albert of Sachsen-Lauenburg, the “Bear of Saxony,” took possession of properties belonging to the cathedral, an act which Ludolph resisted. Insults and threats would not intimidate him. Albert consequently ordered Ludolph thrown into the dungeon, where he had to suffer severe torture. Realizing that his treatment of the bishop was unpopular, the prince decided to set Ludolph free. After his release from prison, Ludolph was brought half dead to Prince John of Mecklenburg and taken to the Franciscans at Wismar where he died a few days later on March 29, 1250.

After his death, numerous favors received were reported by those who visited his grave in the Cathedral of Ratzeburg. Ludolph is venerated as a “martyr for the freedom of the Church.” At the request of the confreres of Lorraine and Hohenburg, and of the Procurator General Norbert Mattens, the centuries-old veneration of St. Ludolph was confirmed and extended to the whole order by Pope Benedict XIII on March 20/April 12, 1728. The head of Ludolph was kept in the possession of the Norbertine nuns of Meer beginning in the 17th century. After the secularization of this convent, it came into the possession of Karl Albert von Beyer, the last abbot of Hamborn. Von Beyer in turn bequeathed the relic to the abbey of Averbode before 1842. On August 30, 1970, St. Ludolph’s head was returned to Hamborn. Because Ratzeburg is in the diocese of Hamburg, founded in 1995, the three holy bishops, Evermode, Isfrid and Ludolph, were transferred from the calendar of the diocese of Osnabrück to that of the archdiocese of Hamburg.

Lord God, who made St. Ludolph, bishop and martyr, a faithful herald of Your name, grant, we beseech You, that following in his footsteps, we may persevere untiringly in preaching Your Gospel to all and in building up the kingdom of Your charity. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

St. Hermann Joseph (May 24)

Hermann was born at Cologne around 1150. From his earliest childhood, he manifested a tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin. The Vita, written by his prior, recounts that he went daily to pray in the church of St. Mary of the Capitol in Cologne. One day he offered an apple before the statue of the Virgin and Child. Mary bent down so that the Christ Child could reach it.

Hermann was about 12 years old when he entered the Norbertine abbey of Steinfeld in the Eifel (located in the diocese of Cologne at the time, currently in the diocese of Aachen). He was sent to Mariëngaarde in Friesland for studies. Even as a young man he liked to practice strict penance. After his return to Steinfeld and his priestly ordination, he was appointed to serve in the sacristy and refectory.

In these manual labors he developed an extraordinary spiritual life and received numerous mystical gifts. He received the surname “Joseph” on account of a vision in which the Blessed Virgin accepted him as her betrothed. His childlike piety and frequent ecstasies caused misunderstanding on the part of the confreres, some of whom regarded him as a simpleton. Hermann Joseph was a model religious in the spirit of St. Augustine. He was humble and poor, and showed himself patient and friendly to everyone — especially to those who understood him the least. He was a model of obedience to his superiors and was always ready to serve his confreres.

Hermann Joseph wrote several hymns in honor of the Blessed Mother, St. Ursula and her Companions, as well as a commentary on the “Song of Songs” (which has since been lost) — all in a style full of feeling, which demonstrated this deeply religious man’s genuine poetic talent. He is one of the first who expressly honored the Sacred Heart of Jesus in a genuine mystical way based totally on the Holy Scripture.

He also was acclaimed for his dexterity in making and repairing clocks. Hermann Joseph was appointed spiritual director to the Cistercian nuns with whom he had regular contact. The nuns so prized his spiritual guidance that on one occasion they pretended that they needed their clock to be fixed — just so they could bring him to their convent again. During the final Lent of his life he was at the monastery of the Cistercian nuns in Hoven, a few miles from Steinfeld, where he became gravely ill and died on the Thursday after Easter, April 4, 1241.

His body was returned to Steinfeld in a solemn procession on the Tuesday after Pentecost, several weeks after his death. It now rests in a raised tomb in the middle of the church. His veneration began immediately after his death with numerous miracles reported at his tomb. His prior wrote his Vita, and devotion to Hermann Joseph continued to grow uninterrupted. On January 22/March 8, 1728, Pope Benedict XIII permitted his veneration and consecrated an altar in his honor in the “Collegio San Norberto” at Rome. His cult, which was alive for centuries, was formally recognized when Pope Pius XII gave Hermann Joseph the title of saint on August 11, 1958. St. Hermann Joseph is venerated in the Rhine region and in the Norbertine Order as Patron of children and of students.

O God, who promised Your kingdom to little children, grant that following in the path of St. Hermann Joseph we may hasten cheerfully and humbly to heavenly joy. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

St. Norbert (June 6)

Norbert of Gennep was born around 1080. He was a secular canon at St. Victor’s Collegiate Church in Xanten and was ordained subdeacon without making an effort to live the clerical life. Somewhere between 1108 and 1109, he became chaplain at the court of Archbishop Frederick of Cologne, and already in 1110 he was a chaplain at the court of Emperor Henry V. He accompanied the latter to Rome in 1111 where there was great turmoil on account of the question of investiture.

Norbert returned to Germany very troubled. In 1113, he declined to accept the diocese of Cambray from the emperor.
In the spring of 1115, while riding to the village of Freden, he was thrown from his horse during a sudden thunderstorm. This event gave Norbert the impetus to change his way of life. He gave up his chaplaincy at the court and dedicated himself to meditation, under the direction of Conon, the reform-minded abbot of Siegburg. Finally, in December 1115, he was ordained deacon and priest on the same day. Before the ordination, he took off his expensive clothes and put on a humble sheepskin garment. Immediately after the ordination, he returned to Siegburg where he spent 40 days in prayer. He celebrated his first Mass at Xanten, where he informed the canons of St. Victor that he had a reform of the community in mind. However, his fellow-canons did not want to hear of it. Experiencing this rejection, Norbert withdrew and continued seeking advice from other reform-minded clerics, including a hermit named Ludolph, and the canons regular of Klosterrath at Rolduc.

After this he began his journey as a wandering preacher. Some admired his actions while others became perturbed and irritated. Norbert consequently had to justify himself at the Council of Fritzlar, where he decided to relinquish everything and resign his canonical title and all his benefices. He then started to lead the life of a pilgrim. In St. Giles in Provence, he was received in audience by Pope Gelasius II, from whom he received permission to work as an itinerant preacher. During the winter he went barefoot to Valenciennes, where two of his companions died of exhaustion and where he met Bishop Burchard of Cambray, his old friend at the imperial court. The chaplain of the bishop, Hugh of Fosse, was so impressed by Norbert that he asked to be allowed to join him.

Norbert attended the Council of Rheims in 1119, where the new pope, Callixtus II, asked his nephew, Bishop Bartholomew of Laon, to take Norbert under his protection. Norbert used this occasion to visit the famous cathedral school in Laon. At the request of the pope, he agreed to reform the chapter of St. Martin. However, this attempt of his was as unsuccessful as that of a few years back in Xanten. The bishop recommended that he look for a place in his diocese where he could settle. He chose the solitary valley of Prémontré, even though he continued his preaching apostolate. On one such occasion, Evermode of Cambray and Anthony of Nivelles followed him. After a sermon in Laon, seven young men joined him.

At Easter 1120, they all settled in Prémontré, where they were now 14. They chose the Rule of St. Augustine and considered themselves canons regular. On Christmas Day 1121, 30 men professed their solemn vows. They promised to live according to the counsel of the apostles, inspired by the apostolic community of Jerusalem, and they lived according to the spirit of the Gregorian Reform. They chose white unbleached wool for their religious garment instead of the usual black. Norbert justified this choice by the example of the angelic witnesses of the resurrection who were clothed in white. The celebration of the Mass was the center of the day. They had a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin, who was chosen patroness of their church. Beside the canons, a great number of lay brothers and sisters lived at Prémontré. They took care of the hospice, which Norbert established for the pilgrims and the poor. All these contributed to the reform of the Church.

After handing over the leadership of the community to Prior Hugh, Norbert went again on his journey of preaching. Before Christmas 1121, he went to Cologne to obtain relics for his new foundation. On his return journey, he promised the Count of Namur to establish an abbey in Floreffe. In the year 1123, Norbert was in Westphalia where Count Godfrey of Cappenberg gave him his castle to establish a monastery. Cappenberg was to be the first Norbertine monastery in German territory. At the request of Burchard of Cambray, Norbert went to Antwerp to preach against Tanchelm. There he founded the abbey of St. Michael. In 1125 he made a pilgrimage to Rome where he received papal confirmation for eight monasteries.

In 1126, the emperor called an Imperial Diet in Speyer to fill the vacant See of Magdeburg. Norbert was also invited. He was elected Archbishop of Magdeburg and he entered his episcopal city barefoot and in penitential attire on July 18, 1126. But as a bishop he had to make adjustments to his way of life. In his new position he had to put an end to abuses and to nullify the illegal sales of church property. Norbert began the task without delay or hesitation. His priority was the reform of the clergy. He brought confreres from Prémontré to Magdeburg and entrusted them with the Church of Our Lady. He also founded Norbertine monasteries in Pöhlde and Gottesgnaden. As shepherd of a diocese on the frontier of a great missionary territory, he geared his confreres toward the work of care for souls more than he had at Prémontré.

During his eight years as bishop, he could not accomplish all his plans. After his death, his confreres continued to labor for the conversion of the pagan Wends. In his last years, he was engaged in political activities in the service of the Church and the emperor. He was instrumental in restoring the peace between Emperor Lothar III and Pope Innocent II. He proved himself a stout defender of Pope Innocent against the antipope Anacletus. As chancellor of the empire, he accompanied Lothar to his coronation in Rome.

After returning to Germany, Norbert became seriously ill in Goslar. He was taken to Magdeburg where he lived three more months. He was able to bless the oils on Holy Thursday, but on Easter Sunday he could only celebrate the Mass sitting. The founder of the Norbertine Order, Norbert of Xanten, died June 6, 1134. He was buried in Magdeburg in the church of the Monastery of Our Lady at the altar of the Holy Cross. A few years later he was transferred to the choir. Pope Gregory XII canonized him on July 28, 1626. Magdeburg later came into the hands of the Protestants. The relics of St. Norbert were transferred through the efforts of Abbot von Questemberg in 1626 and later placed in a magnificent chapel in the abbey church of Strahov in Prague.

O God, who made our holy Father Norbert, Your faithful pastor, an outstanding herald of Your word and through him have called many to a conversion of ways: grant, we beseech You, that with the support of his merits and with Your help, we may imitate what he taught in word and in deed. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

St. Isfrid (June 15)

Isfrid was born around the year 1115 and later became a canon in the abbey of Cappenberg. In 1159, he became the first provost of Jerichow, where he built a magnificent Romanesque church. At the urging of Prince Henry the Lion, of Bavaria and Saxony, the sons of Norbert in Magdeburg had turned their attention to the conversion of the pagan Wends.

Through the intervention of Prince Henry, Isfrid was chosen as successor of Evermode, bishop of Ratzeburg, in 1178. He completed the erection of the cathedral that begun under Evermode and established many parishes. He also promoted the German colonization of the territory of the Wends. Toward himself he was inclined to be strict in penitential practices. Toward the rebellious Wends, however, he was a mild judge and attempted to convince and win them over through his preaching. In 1190, he visited the abbey of Floreffe, destroyed by a fire. According to Arnold of Lübeck, he succeeded in calling back the religious who had been dispersed in all directions for the previous year and a half; he restored the monastery and consecrated seven altars in one day. In the same year he also consecrated the Romanesque church of Postel, a daughter house of Floreffe.

In the struggle between the imperial party of the Staufs and the papal party of the Welfs, he sided, in spite of all threats and remonstrances, with the defeated Duke Henry of Saxony and Bavaria, to whom he once swore fealty. He remained the confessor and spiritual director of Henry the Lion, to whom he ministered at his deathbed in 1195. Isfrid defended the rights of his people against the intrigues of Emperor Frederick and his vassal, Bernard of Anhalt.

Exalted through many miracles during his life and after death, he was a true light in a time of much darkness. Isfrid died on June 15, 1204, at 89 years of age and was buried in the presbyterium of the Cathedral of Ratzeburg next to Evermode. The fame of his sanctity spread and his cult was approved by Pope Benedict XIII on March 20/April 12, 1728. Because Ratzeburg is in the diocese of Hamburg, founded in 1995, the three holy bishops, Evermode, Isfrid and Ludolph, were transferred from the calendar of the diocese of Osnabrück to that of the archdiocese of Hamburg.

Almighty eternal God, Your bishop St. Isfrid, refulgent with Your assistance, devoutly loved and strenuously defended Your Church; grant, we beseech You, that obedient to the holy Gospel, we may faithfully serve Your people. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

Sts. Adrian and James (July 9)

On July 9, 1572, the Calvinists hanged 19 priests and religious in Gorcum on account of their loyalty to the Catholic faith. Among these were two sons of St. Norbert, Adrian and James.

Adrian Jansen (sometimes called Becan after his place of birth) was born at Hilvarenbeek in 1529 and entered the abbey of Middelburg at the age of 15. After a stint as master of novices and chaplain, he was appointed pastor of Agterkerke in 1560 and of Munster in 1572. Adrian was an exemplary priest and a true apostle, laboring in a parish which already counted several Calvinists among its population.

James Lacops, also a canon of Middelburg, was born at Oudenaarde in 1542. He was an intelligent and charming young man whose success went to his head. His religious life was mediocre. When the iconoclastic Calvinists infiltrated the abbey in 1566, the 24-year-old James renounced his faith together with two others. His father and his brother, who also was a Norbertine, eventually brought him to reconsider. Touched by the grace of God, he returned to the abbey and was kindly received by the community when he asked forgiveness for his apostasy. Among other things, he had gone so far as to write a pamphlet attacking the Church and had become a preacher of the Calvinist beliefs. His abbot sent him to the abbey of Mariëweerd for a prolonged period of penance. At the end of five years, the abbot appointed him curate in Munster where his brother was currently pastor. After the death of his brother in 1572, Adrian Jansen was appointed pastor.

Adrian had only been there three months when revolutionary soldiers attacked the rectory and captured both priests in July 1572. Together with 17 other priests and religious, they were marched through the streets while beaten and insulted, accompanied by a screaming mob. Along the way the soldiers offered local fishermen to set the priests free in exchange for a cask of beer, an offer which the highly Calvinistic locals refused. The 19 priests and religious were thrown into prison and subjected to a trial during which they defended the doctrine of the Eucharist and the authority of the Successor of Peter. Although Adrian was more experienced in refuting the arguments of the heretics, it was now James, with his gift for speaking, who took the lead in arguing with their captors. They were mistreated, tortured, and denied food. On July 9, 1572, both Adrian and James, together with the other 17 priests and religious, were hanged from the rafters of a barn at Gorcum and received the crown of martyrdom. Adrian was 43 and James 30. They were beatified by Pope Clement X on November 24, 1675, and canonized by Blessed Pius IX on June 29, 1867.

Lord, our God, who caused Your holy martyrs Adrian, James, and their companions to persevere to the end; make us remain in You in faith and charity and pursue the unity of the Church. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

Bl. Hroznata (July 14)

The Czech nobleman Hroznata was born around 1170 and received after the early death of his father a good education at Krakow, where his sister, Woyslawa, was the wife of the prefect of the city. The young talented man married but soon lost his wife and his son. In place of a legal heir he founded the monastery of Teplá as his spiritual heir in 1193.

When the papal legate encouraged the knights to participate in the crusades, Hroznata promised to go to the Holy Land in order to liberate the holy places. He made the journey with the crusaders to Brindisi and passed through Rome, where the pope confirmed the foundation of Teplá. Since the crusade failed in 1197 the pope dispensed Hroznata from his vow concerning the crusades on his way back from Southern Italy and encouraged him to found a sister monastery. Together with his widowed sister he established a cloister for nuns in Chotešov around 1202. Hroznata even becomes a religious in Teplá.

The traditions relay that he was clothed at Rome by Pope Innocent III in the white habit of the Norbertine Order. Because of his expertise in a variety of areas, Abbot John appointed him substitute and administrator of the monastery properties. With all his strength, Hroznata fought for the cause of the abbey. His efforts were a thorn in the side for the enemies of the monastery. Hroznata was captured and imprisoned in 1217. Because he refused to allow the abbey to pay his ransom, his captors let him die of hunger in prison.

After his death, the confreres of Teplá were able to secure his body and buried it in the abbey church in front of the high altar. He is honored as a “saint” because of his love of neighbor, his humility and his martyrdom. His relics were exhumed and placed in a precious reliquary in the new Hroznata chapel. Already in the 13th century the vita fratris Hroznatae had been written. Pope Leo XIII confirmed his veneration as “blessed” on September 16, 1897, and 100 years later, Pope John Paul II declared him patron of the newly erected Czech diocese of Plzen on March 3, 1997. The Order now looks forward to his canonization.

Lord God, who called Your holy martyr Hroznata to be a follower of Christ crucified, make us able, we beseech You, to deny ourselves and so to enter into the glory of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

Bl. Gertrude (August 13)

Gertrude was the daughter of Count Louis of Thuringia and Hesse and St. Elizabeth of Hungary. She was dedicated to God from the womb by her father as he prepared to depart for the Crusades in 1227. Louis offered the unborn child to the Premonstratensian Canons of Rommersdorf if a boy, or the Premonstratensian Canonesses of Altenberg near Wetzlar if a girl. Gertrude was born on September 29, 1227, a few weeks after Louis died in the Crusades. Her mother, Elizabeth, who wished to devote the rest of her life to prayer and the service of the poor, kept her husband’s vow by entrusting Gertrude to Altenberg.

Though Elizabeth died within a few years of Gertrude’s birth, she was remembered by the community of Altenberg for her visits, during which she spun wool with the sisters. The 8-year-old Gertrude was brought from Altenberg to Marburg to attend her mother’s canonization in May 1235. Altenberg became prominent among the religious houses most active in promoting the cult of St. Elizabeth. Gertrude received her entire education at Altenberg and became the third prioress of the monastery at age 24. Using her inheritance, Gertrude built the monastery church after the Gothic style of the church at Marburg. She also built a hospital and guesthouse for the poor, following the example of her mother who had demonstrated her love of Christ by caring for the poor and sick. While washing the sick Gertrude was reported to say: “How beautiful it is that we are allowed to bathe the Savior!”

When Pope Urban IV renewed the call for a crusade, Gertrude became a zealous advocate of this endeavor. Together with the sisters of the monastery and many noble ladies, she collected money for the outfitting of the crusaders. When the feast of Corpus Christi was introduced to the universal Church by a Bull of Pope Urban IV in 1264, the new feast met with widespread resistance, remaining a dead letter for 50 years in many places, including Rome itself. Gertrude introduced the feast at Altenberg already in 1270, where it was celebrated with the greatest solemnity, thus becoming one of the first to introduce the new Eucharistic feast. In everyday life, Gertrude took care of the needs of the poorest, both in the hospital and the monastery. She had the gift of reconciling people upon whom she implored the Divine Mercy through penance and mortification. She was 69 years old when she died after a serious illness on August 13, 1297, having led her community for 50 years. She was buried in the monastery church of Altenberg.

Pope Clement V granted indulgences on her day of death and allowed her veneration in 1311 (the authenticity of this Bull has been questioned by some). Her cult as a blessed was definitively confirmed by Pope Benedict XIII on January 22/March 8, 1728. The Lutheran deaconesses who now inhabit the cloister of Altenberg retain a profound veneration for Blessed Gertrude to this day.

Lord, our God, whose will the holy virgin Gertrude faithfully fulfilled, grant that we, eagerly following her example, may experience You as our Father in heaven, and Your Son as our Brother accompanying us in our life. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

Bl. Bronislava (August 30)

Bronislava was born at the castle of Kamien in Upper Silesia in 1203. Her family was of Polish origin and was devoted to the Gregorian reform movement. She grew up in an atmosphere deeply influenced by the Crusades, and devotion to the Holy Cross would characterize her entire life.

She was 16 years old when she entered the cloister of the Norbertine nuns at Zwierzyniec in Krakow, a convent founded by her maternal grandfather. Bronislava’s devout prayer, her meditation on the Passion of Christ, and her veneration of the Holy Cross left a deep impression on her contemporaries. When the Tartars invaded Krakow in 1241, Bronislava, holding the cross in her hand, encouraged her sisters with the words, “Do not be afraid, the cross will save us.” The barbarians left behind a track of misery. In the same year, the pestilence also ravaged this region. In every difficult challenge, Bronislava, supported by her sisters, was an “angel of consolation” to the people in their need. The population considered her their patroness on whom they could count when they needed protection. Her help and protection was the cross, and she is therefore often represented as praying before Jesus Crucified.

During her grave afflictions, she withdrew to the solitude of the hill of Sikornik where she entrusted her troubles and the troubles of her fellow men to the mercy of God. She saw her cousin, the Dominican St. Hyacinth, in a vision at the time of his death on August 15, 1257, as he went to heaven holding the hand of the Blessed Virgin.

Bronislava died on August 29, 1259. Her body was taken to the convent church and she was invoked as a saint. Her relics were placed in a precious reliquary and were carried in solemn procession each year on the anniversary of her death. Pope Gregory XVI declared her blessed on August 23, 1839. The efforts of the Polish bishops toward the canonization of Bronislava in 1947 at Pope Pius XII were delayed by 40 years of Communist rule.

Almighty, eternal God. You call those who are weak in this world, to confound those who are strong. Help us, through the intercession of Blessed Bronislava, so that, notwithstanding our weaknesses, we may cooperate in the building of Your kingdom. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Bl. James Kern (October 20)

Francis Alexander Kern was born in Vienna on April 16, 1897. As a small boy he manifested a strong desire to become a priest. At age 11, the intellectually gifted Francis enrolled in the Minor Seminary in Hollabrunn, where he liked to spend his free time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. He was 14 years old when he made a vow of perpetual chastity. During WWI, shortly after completing his secondary studies in 1915, he enlisted as a volunteer in the army. Even as a soldier he continued his daily adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. On January 1, 1916, during the 40 hours devotion in the church of St. Blase in Salzburg, he asked God to be allowed to suffer in union with His Son, Jesus Christ. His request was soon granted and he was sent to the Italian Front as a lieutenant.

In September 1916, a bullet pierced his lung and caused a wound from which he would never fully recover. He entered the seminary of the archdiocese of Vienna as a convalescent. About this time, a group of Catholics in the Czech Republic separated themselves from Rome and founded the schismatic Czech National Church. Isidore Bogdan Zaradnik, a Norbertine canon of Strahov and a doctor of philosophy, also fell away and became a leader of the schism. In this capacity, Isadore came to Vienna to agitate against Rome. James was deeply shocked by all this and decided to offer himself in atonement for Isidore. Pope John Paul II would later say, “In this sad event, James Kern discovered his vocation. He desired to be the propitiatory sacrifice for this fallen-away religious. In a manner of speaking, James Kern entered the Norbertine abbey of Geras to replace him in the Order. And God accepted the gift of the ‘substitute.’” On October 18, 1920, he received the white habit of St. Norbert and the religious name “James” (after the Norbertine martyr St. James Lacoupe).

Having been put to the test by sufferings during his time in the army and from his war injury, James took religious life very seriously. His piety, however, was not always understood and appreciated by his confreres. James was a faithful and happy novice and professed his temporary vows in 1921. His abbot wrote of him that, “Consecrated to the Sacred Heart, he fosters the idea of reparation.” Through an indult given in view of his poor health, he was permitted to be ordained a priest on July 23, 1922, and the great desire of his childhood was finally realized. Nevertheless, at his first Mass he said, “This Palm Sunday will be followed by Good Friday.” His sermons came from the heart and moved his listeners. Because of his weak health, his priestly ministry was limited to the abbey and the neighboring parishes.

In 1923, some of his ribs had to be removed using only a local anesthetic, and his Way of the Cross began. He spent a few months in Meran to recuperate, but after returning to Geras, his condition grew worse and he had to be very careful. His last sermon, preached on the occasion of the bishop’s jubilee, bore the title, “A man of the Church, loyal to the bishop.” Eventually he had to be taken again to the hospital where he suffered greatly because he refused to take painkillers. On October 20, the day he was slated to make his solemn profession of vows in the Order, he underwent another surgery. Before the operation he said, “Tomorrow I will see the Mother of God and my Guardian Angel.” He asked that his white habit be prepared and everything made ready for Holy Communion, saying, “The last Communion should be as special and solemn as the first.” The hospital chaplain gave him the last Sacraments during the long surgery and blessed him for the final leg of his journey to the Heavenly Father. James Kern died on October 20, 1924, at the ringing of the Angelus bell at noon.

The faithful did not forget the “good Father James.” They came to his grave in Geras to pray and to ask for his intercession. Pope John Paul II beatified James Kern on June 21, 1998, at Vienna’s Heldenplatz (“Heroes’ Square”). More than 100 Norbertines joined the thousands of priests and faithful present for this celebration, during which the Pope encouraged priests to follow this “hero of the Church” and remain faithful to their vocation.

God, who gave Your priest Blessed James a zeal for perfection and the patience to cling to You alone in infirmities; grant, that strengthened by his intercession, we may go forth in the way of love rejoicing in the Spirit. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

St. Gilbert (October 26)

The knight Gilbert belonged to the high nobility of Auvergne. Following the advice of Ornifius, the Norbertine abbot of Dilo, he participated in the Second Crusade (1147-1149), which was preached by St. Bernard at Vezelay and led by the French king, Louis VII. This crusade ended in military disaster. Having survived this dangerous endeavor, Gilbert decided, together with his wife, Petronilla, and his daughter, Ponzia, to dedicate himself to God and enter the monastic life. He distributed a portion of his considerable wealth to the poor and also founded a convent, which his wife and daughter entered. At first, Gilbert himself lived as a hermit. After completing his novitiate in the Norbertine abbey of Dilo, he founded the abbey of Neuffontaines around 1150 and became its first abbot. Following the example of St. Norbert, he also built a hospital attached to the abbey, which soon became famous because of the many miracles that occurred there.

Penitent and filled with compassion, he cared for a great number of sick and sinful people, whom he wished to heal both spiritually and physically. Children with severe sickness were brought to him from all over. He laid his hands on them and gave them back to their parents healed. This gave rise to the later custom of parents bringing their sick children to Neuffontaines, clothed in white, seeking the intercession of St. Gilbert for healing.

Gilbert died on June 5, 1152, consumed by penance and hard work. He had expressed his desire to be buried in the cemetery of the poor who died at the abbey. But because of the many miracles which God worked through his intercession his earthly remains were eventually transferred to the abbey church of Neuffontaines and, after being lost for a time, were later rediscovered in the abbey in October 1645. The relics were transferred for greater safety to St. Didier in 1791 and, nevertheless, were lost during the tumult of the French Revolution. St. Gilbert’s feast day (October 26) falls on the anniversary of his translation of the 17th century. Pope Benedict XIII confirmed the veneration of St. Gilbert on January 22/March 8, 1728.

God, who called Your abbot St. Gilbert away from the riches of the world, so that he might enter into the way of poverty, grant, we beseech You, that entering into the way of humility, we may strive to serve our brothers. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.
St. Godfrey
January 14
St. Frederick
February 04
Bl. Hugh
February 10
St. Evermode
February 17
St. Ludolph
April 26
St. Hermann Joseph
May 24
St. Norbert
June 06
St. Isfrid
June 15
Sts. Adrian and James
July 09
Bl. Hroznata
July 14
Bl. Gertrude
August 13
Bl. Bronislava
August 30
Bl. James Kern
October 20
St. Gilbert
October 26