We were elevated to the status of an Abbey on August 2nd, 2012, the highest state a house can hold in our ancient order.
Over 400 years after the Roman Catholic Faith was brought to New Mexico we as Norbertines, Canons Regular of Prémontré, are planting the seeds of our ancient tradition to live a life of community, contemplation and compassionate service with the people of God in the southwestern United States.
The Norbertine Order is now nearly 900 years old, one of the oldest Roman Catholic religious orders in the world. In the valley of Premontre in France, a small group of men gathered on Christmas Eve, 1121. Led by Norbert of Xanten in Germany, they committed themselves to God, to one another, and to the vita apostolica or to the life as the early christians did.
They built an abbey at Prémontré to be the first home of their service. Communities of Norbertine priests, brothers, sisters and laity can now be found around the world.
- The Beginning
- A Difficult Start
- New Location for the Priory
- Long Range Plan
- Ministries in New Mexico
- New Initiatives
- An Abbey
In the years after Vatican II, under the leadership of Abbot Benjamin Mackin, the men of St. Norbert Abbey in DePere, Wisconsin sent Fr. Robert Brooks to the Southwest to visit dioceses that might provide an appropriate setting for a new Norbertine foundation. His research led to the recommendation that we mission some men to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in New Mexico. In 1984, Fr. Robert Brooks and Fr. Robert Olson moved to Albuquerque to seek an appropriate setting for our Norbertine Community. They ministered at the University of Albuquerque where Fr. Alfred McBride, a Norbertine, was president.
In 1985, the Norbertine Community was invited to take pastoral responsibility for Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish on Albuquerque’s West Mesa, a primarily Hispanic working-class parish. The parish included a former convent that could house a small community. Fr. Ed Sdano was named pastor of the parish and Fr. Joel Garner his associate.
On September 8, 1985, the Feast of the Nativity of Mary, St. Norbert Abbey created a permanent foundation in New Mexico, to be known as Santa María de la Vid Priory. The name, which means Our Lady of the Vine, was adopted in memory of the first Norbertine Abbey in Spain, which was founded just after the death of St. Norbert and lasted for more than 700 years until it was suppressed in 1835 by an anti-clerical government.
Fr. Joel Garner was named the prior of the new foundation. Fr. Richard Mulroy, a missionary in Lima, Peru, and Fr. Vincent DeLeers, a former academic dean at St. Norbert College, joined the fledgling community
From the very beginning, the Norbertines of New Mexico saw as their primary mission “the witnessing to the reality and power of a Christian faith community by living a simple, communal life according to the Rule of Augustineand the ancient traditions of the Order of Prémontré” (Mission Statement). Morning and evening prayer, common table, the Eucharist, and a monthly community day were initial vehicles for the deepening of communio.
The initial years of this new venture were marked with numerous challenges, and the rhythm of dying and rising that marks Christian life. Fr. Sdano died the day after leading an annual pilgrimage for vocations in which the peregrinos walk 100 miles from the four directions to the Santuario at Chimayo, NM.
He had been pastor only nine months when he died of a heart attack in June of 1986. Fr. Brooks, who had founded the new parish of St. Joseph on the Rio Grande out of the campus ministry program at the University of Albuquerque, died of cancer two years later in 1988.
Fr. Robert Olson and Fr. John Tourangeau, who had joined the priory community in 1987, departed from Norbertine life in 1989. However, as the years passed, other Norbertines came to share in the life of this new mission. Among them were Jim Huth, Christian O’Brien, Norbert Manders, Francis Dorff, Dominic Rossi, Joe Serano, Stan Joppe, Gene Gries, Rod Fenzl, Nick Nirschl, Larry Mayer, Angelo Feldkamp, John Tourangeau (who returned), Brother Dennis Butler, who became the first member solemnly professed in New Mexico, and Robert Campbell, a newly-ordained priest. In addition, Anthony Maes, a former Archdiocese of Santa Fe priest, entered the community but later returned to the Archdiocese.
As the community grew, several other houses were purchased near the priory in our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish, but the living situation was not conducive to the community life that was envisioned. So in 1995 the Norbertines of Santa María de la Vid Priory moved to 70 acres of land in Albuquerque’s South Valley.
Located on a southwest mesa, the priory overlooks the city of Albuquerque and the Sandia and Manzano Mountains. Memorable sunrises and sunsets are a regular experience.
The history of communal residence on this land is a fascinating one. There is strong evidence that the descendants of neighboring Native American peoples inhabited the land when St. Norbert was preaching in Europe in 1121. Subsequently sheep grazed here under the flags of three different countries –Spain, Mexico, and the United States.
In the late 1940s, Bernard May, a former World War II fighter pilot, had purchased the 70 acres which form the boundaries of the property. He built a family home, an airstrip, and a small airplane hangar on his land. May sold the land to a community of Dominican Sisters from Philadelphia in the 1950s.
The Sisters, whose main apostolate was retreat ministry, built a dormitory for retreatants in 1960. In the mid-1980s, the sisters added a small convent, four hermitages, and a desert chapel. Subsequently, the Dominican Sisters sold the retreat house to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
The New Mexico Norbertines purchased 30 of those acres from the Archdiocese in 1988 and subsequently were invited to purchase the remaining 40 acres and its six buildings in 1994.Ten years after its founding, the Priory of Santa María de la Vid and its members had a new home in a new location. Here the community has created a center for spiritual life for its members and for anyone who wishes to deepen their own relationship with God.
In 1995, Phase I of the long-range development plan for the Abbey began. This included building the Church of Santa María de la Vid, renovating the original May home to serve as a communal dining and living room facility, converting the former airplane hangar into a temporary library, renovating the former retreat center dormitory into housing for the community, and the renovation of Bethany Guest House (the former Sisters’ convent) and the Hermitages of Premontré to make them more suitable for retreat guests.
In 2010, the twenty-fifth anniversary year of the Norbertine presence in New Mexico, Phase II of the three-phase building process is now completed. The second phase addressed the need for a new residence-living center and a library-spiritual learning center. The third phase will include a dining room-living room facility and another residence-living center.
The Norbertine Library is a theological resource for the entire state. The library, currently with over 14,000 volumes and growing, has an animating vision expressed in the dedicatory phrase, “That All May Be One.” The Norbertine Library is open to the public. A series of free lectures on spirituality on Saturday mornings has been held through the Library.
The planning for these two buildings began in 2004 and was realized in 2008. Abbot Gary Neville dedicated St. Norbert Cloister in September of 2007, and Archbishop Michael Sheehan dedicated the new library in August of 2008. These two additions are foundational for Santa María de la Vid’s future as an abbey. The church building assures a space for liturgy, the library a place for study, and the cloister a place for rest and renewal for active ministries. These are the three pillars of abbey life.
The high desert environment of Santa Maria de la Vid Abbey is a sacred space where Norbertines and those who spend time here are nourished for their ministries in the Southwest and beyond. The prayerful, inclusive atmosphere of the priory invites all who enter this holy ground to silence, solitude, study, and dialogue. It is the contemplative hospitality of this place that sustains the Norbertines and others in their active ministries.
The Parish Outreach of the Abbey touches a number of Catholic faith communities in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. The community maintains pastoral responsibility for St. Augustine Parish at Isleta Pueblo, founded in 1613. Our South Valley ministerial outreach included St. Edwin parish. In addition, we minister to other parishes and convents of sisters in the local area.
The Educational Outreach of the Abbey is reflected in the collaboration with ecumenical friends. The priory has provided a New Mexico campus for the Master of Theological Studies program of St. Norbert College. It enables local residents to earn an advanced theological degree.
The Norbertine Library is open to people of all faiths as a space in which a shared search for Wisdom can be pursued in peace. The community is also involved in other adult educational efforts. In addition, several Norbertines have worked at St. Pius X High School, the only Catholic High School in Albuquerque.
Our Pastoral Outreach is ecumenical, including retreat ministry, involvement in interfaith dialogue, advocacy and ministry in the realm of social justice and social concerns and ministry to the marginalized: the poor, the immigrants, the imprisoned, and the sick and dying in area hospitals.
Other fresh developments in the community’s life since the turn of the century have been the beginning of the Norbertine associates program in 2001, and the formation of an oblate program in 2006. A small group of lay men and women now have the opportunity to identify more intimately with our life and ministry.
A further positive development has been the welcoming of three Norbertine priest-brothers from India in 2006 who have been gradually integrated into the Norbertine life of New Mexico and its ministries. Their presence has touched many lives.
With their emphasis on the primacy of community and life together, the Norbertines of Santa María de la Vid Abbey attempt to bring a sense of community to their multiple ministries.
On December 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, 2011 Abbot Gary Neville of St. Norbert Abbey, joined by other abbots and Archbishop Sheehan of Santa Fe, the members of the community and the Norbertine laity, friends and family, decreed Santa Maria de la Vid as an canonry. This gave the community the status of self governance no longer part of St. Norbert Abbey.
On August 2, 2012, the General Chapter of the Order made up of the leaders and elected delegates of all Norbertine houses around the world voted to elevate Santa Maria de la Vid to the status of an abbey, the highest degree a house can reach in our Order. The General Chapter was held at St. Norbert Abbey. This was an historic occasion as it was only the second time a chapter had been held in the United States.
It was at the mother Abbey of our small community that the international gathering raised us to an Abbey, the dream that had been set out so many years before. Now we must persevere in our vocation and continue to build the life and mission we believe we have been called to realize through God’s grace.
Drawn by our merciful and Triune God, We are called as baptized to follow the poor and risen Christ in a radical and apostolic way of life according to the Gospel, the Rule of St. Augustine and the charism of St. Norbert, founder of our Premonstratensian order.
Our way of life is marked by a lifelong seeking after God through fraternal community, a never-ending conversion by giving ourselves to the Church of our profession in communion with the self-emptying of Christ, in imitation of Mary pondering God’s Word, and in ceaseless prayer and service at the altar.
From the choir and altar we go to serve the human family in a spirit of simplicity, hospitality, reconciliation and peace for the benefit of the Church and the world, especially where Christ is found among the poor, the suffering and among those who do not know him.
We pray that what God’s spirit has begun in us may be made perfect in the day of Christ Jesus.
TRADO ME IPSUM
Our spirituality grows from the vows we take.
“I brother N, offer give myselft to Church of N, and I promise a conversion of my ways and life in community , especially in poverty, consecrated celibacy and obedience, according to the rule of St. Augustine and the Constitutions of the Order of Premontre; I promise this before N, the prelate of this canonry and before this community.”
Self Donation is central to our communal spirituality. We give ourselves to Christ by giving all of who we are, what we know and are able to do the body of Christ in our local Church and community.
Our way of life as Norbertine is realized in a life in community that is built on sharing and participation.
We share our life with one another in :
- Prayer and Work
- Liturgy and Service to the World
- Contemplation and Action
- Reflection and Commitment
Sharing our life together, all that we do should contribute not only to our own journey of faith but to that of our community. We live with and for each other. It is through a common life in our community the we strive to “live in unity and to be one mind and one heart on the way to God” (Rule of St. Augustine)
CONTEMPLARE ET CONTEMPLATA ALIIS TRADERE
To contemplate and share the fruits of contemplation
Our communial spirituality is reflected in a:
- Life-long search for God.
- Constant conversion of life and self-emptying to Christ (Kenosis)
- Contemplation of word of God, like Virgin Mary
- Life-long liturgical prayer (choral office) and service at the altar (celebration of the Eucharist)
- As contemplatives in action, we enter into silence and contemplation to then share the fruits of contemplation to edify one another, the Church and human family on our journey of faith.
Our spirituality has a central focus on the Eucharist (St. Norbert is known as Apostle of the Blessed Sacrament). Pope John Paul II expresses how this “source and summit” of our life as Roman Catholics manifests our contemplation into compassionate service in his Apostolic Letter Mane Nobiscum Domine. He states:
“Each Mass, even when celebrated in obscurity or in isolation, always has a universal character. The Christian who takes part in the Eucharist learns to become a promoter of communion, peace and solidarity in every situation (27)”
“It is not by chance that the Gospel of John contains no account of the institution of the Eucharist, but instead relates the “washing of feet” (cf. Jn 13:1-20): by bending down to wash the feet of his disciples, Jesus explains the meaning of the Eucharist unequivocally. Saint Paul vigorously reaffirms the impropriety of a Eucharistic celebration lacking charity expressed by practical sharing with the poor (cf. 1Cor 11:17-22, 27-34) (28).”
It should be of no surprise tha during his own lifetime St. Norbert was called the Disciple of Peace and Concord.
DOCERE VERBO ET EXEMPLO
Complementing and building upon this unfolding of the contemplative side side of our religious are four areas of action and ministry.
– Our service of buildng up the community and the Church
– Our service of reconciliation and peace
– Our service of the poor and suffering
– Our service thos who do not ye know God
In all we do, we strive to both show forth the love of God to one another and as a communityto all whom we serve. We remain open and humble to learning from one another to both evangelize and be evangelized by all whom we encounter. Our charism fosters a dedication to ministry and service, but not in a particular form. The motto of the Order of Premontre is: “Preapred for All Good Works.”
Within the context of our life together and an going conversionof our ways aligning our live with Christ we vow:
– to live simple, uncluttered lives insolidarity with the poor and needy (poverty)
– to be readily and lovingly available to all we serve (consecrated celibacy)
-to mutually discern the will God (obedience)
Our vows are to be lived out in a particular Church, a particular community of faith. Thus we live a life of stability of dedicated service and prayer within our own community and the regional community and diocese in which we reside. We live, pray and minister with the same group of men for life collectively responding to the needs of the local Church as our talents allow.
As religious living by the Rule of St. Augustine we hold no personal belongings. Rather, what each man has is of the community and at the disposal of the community. We believe that the resources and gifts within the community are not ours but are gifts from God which we collectively steward to their best ends and for the betterment of the Church and human family. It is for this reason that we share our property, Church, chapels, library, hermitages, prayer life, intellects and talents with all.
5825 Coors Blvd. SW Albuquerque, NM 87121