Normandy Cemetary

Like a Pebble in One’s Shoe – A Tribute to Veterans

With the Norbertine Juniors’ and Formators’ meeting wrapped up, Friday has been a ‘bonus’ day. And before we could even ask, Fr. Hugh offered to get us to Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery in Normandy. Just a week ordained, Fr. Norbert offered to drive us there, less than 30 minutes from the abbey.

The thought of so many lost lives…heroes, men…but still, boys, sons, and brothers too! Their lives just beginning. The loss felt overwhelming to me. Men of my dad’s era.

And not only Americans or Allied troops.

Those who fought ‘on the other side’ were just beginning life too. Just as beloved of their families. Just as full of hopes and dreams.

How could a person not be moved to cry, to choke up?

Where does all that “life lost” go?

Hopefully fully alive, healed, reconciled in God’s House!


A former parishioner, whose only maternal uncle died in the invasion and is buried here reached asking me to find his grave; I thought it would be impossible. But Fr. Norbert’s great kindness sent him to the Visitors’ Center, where they made a print-out of the man’s information. It turns out that he is buried in the British Cemetery, 90 minutes away.

So, we found the tombstone of another man from Wisconsin, and the five of us gathered as I led the Church’s Committal prayers…so choked up, I could hardly speak. When I finished, the two Norbertine Sisters with us sang verses of a ‘Song of Farewell.’

“Into Your hands, God of tender mercy, we commend our brother, Donald…”



Since there was time before Mass, Fr. Norbert took us down to the shore of Omaha Beach…literally a resort now. After some silence, he suggested that we “test the water.” I was reluctant at first…we were the only beachgoers in full Norbertine habits. But I‘m glad I set aside my Birkenstocks and pride away, pulled up my tunic and waded into the sea!

“Can you be baptized in the same bath of pain as I?” Jesus asks His disciples. (Mark 10:38)

Beside the cool water, the tide, the sand, the salty air…Our ‘moment in the sea’ was a sharing, claiming their sacrifice… and promising to ‘make good’ on it by trying our best to make sure it never happens again.

The sand between my toes and under my heels at noonday Mass back at the Abbey…like a pebble in one’s shoe… a necessary irritant, and reminder of how high the stakes can get in war and peace… not just globally. But at home, In Marriage, Family, Friendship, In the Church and Religious Community, too! We gotta get this right…please God!

A very special THANK YOU to Fr. Tim Shillcox, O. Praem. for his own personal account of seeing and reacting to the sights of Omaha Beach and Normandy Cemetary (France) when he was able to visit there with the Juniors back in July, 2022. The pictures are also a courtesy of Fr. Tim. I was so happy that he was willing to give his account of how personal the two places touched him both emotionally and spiritually! A very special work of art Fr. Tim!