Today we had power and slightly cooler temps, so all is good again! We are staying just outside Dinant, so it was back on the bus to Leffe for mass. Founded in 1154, it flourished for centuries. The 15th century, however, brought plague, flood and fire. In 1844 the last member of the Leffe Norbertine community died and everything appeared to be finished. However, the Norbertines of Frigolet were expecting to be expelled from their abbey, so in 1902 those members bought Leffe. During World War I, the abbey was turned into a prison for 1800 women. The Norbertine community eventually was able to return to the abbey. In 1929 a fire destroyed part of the abbey of Tongerlo, leaving those Norbertines homeless. They took shelter at Leffe, and eventually Leffe was officially transferred to Tongerlo. In WWII, Leffe was able to hide 40 Jewish children from the Germans. Today, they have 13 members, and are in need of vocations.
When we arrived at the hotel yesterday, we learned there was a regional power outage, so to all our loyal followers, you will see two posts today! We started our day at Park Abbey. Four Norbertines from Laon founded it in 1129. Park Abbey is known for its 17th century stained-glass windows depicting the life of Norbert, 41 in all. After the French Revolution, the Norbertines had to sell the windows to survive. They are in the process of purchasing them back from private collections and museums around the world. So far, 21 of them have been returned to Park. They are currently being studied and restored, but it was so exciting to be able to see five of them. As you can see in the photos, the abbey is currently undergoing major renovations, so it would be great to go back in four or five years to see it in its completed state.
We hopped back on the bus and headed to Grimbergen for lunch at their restaurant and a tour. Founded in 1126, it’s best known in the U.S. for its beer, which is currently brewed by Carlsberg group. They recently found their original Norbertine recipe for beer, and are starting a microbrewery. The first beer should be ready in 2020. In addition to the restaurant, they have a guest house and retreat center on site. The church was spared during the French Revolution, but the Norbertines had to flee. In 1831 they resumed communal living, and in 1951 they founded a priory in Cape Town, South Africa. They currently have 17 members, 11 of whom live at Grimbergen.
The bus rides have been fairly quiet, but I think we’re starting to win the jet lag battle. We visited beautiful Postel Abbey for a tour, mass and lunch today. Fr. Benedict greeted us, and we chatted over tea and coffee. Postel generates income through a 28-room guesthouse, and they make and sell their own cheese and products made from their herb garden. They have 23 members, 16 of whom live here. The others live in parishes or elder care facilities. Like other Norbertine abbeys we’ve visited, their members are elderly, and they struggle with vocations. In the 1950s they had approximately 100 members – some were doing mission work in the Congo. In 1970 they started a priory there with more than 50 members that is now an independent canonry.
It’s a beautiful walk down a tree-lined lane to St. Catherine’s Monastery. Almost 700 years ago, seven daughters were given permission to join the Order of Prémontré. The location of the monastery changed several times throughout the centuries, until 1647 when they moved to their present location in Oosterhout. In 1954, the sisters began restoring and preserving antique books to generate income. The economic downfall in 2008 seriously affected the income from their book work. In 2012, the sisters declared they would stay at the monastery, and they would stay there together, but they needed a new source of income. They decided to start a vineyard on the property, and after developing a business plan, the community supported them. All the sisters voted on decisions throughout the process, in order to stay true to who they are as Norbertine sisters.
In addition to the vineyard, the sisters also started a guesthouse. There are 14 rooms that can be used for retreats and other events.
The vineyard was planted in 2015, and last year was their first harvest. They grow six different varietals, and bottled 11,000 bottles of white wine their first year. On Saturday they release this year’s wine, and have grown to 55,000 bottles.
After breakfast at the hotel, we rode the bus to Berne Abbey, founded shortly after Norbert’s death in 1134. This current location has been home to the Norbertines since 1857. In the late 1800s, they had a large number of vocations, which allowed them to send three Norbertines, including Bernard Pennings, to Wisconsin in 1893. Berne would send 26 Norbertines in all, which led to the purchase of St. Joseph Parish and the founding of the college.
After a few travel and luggage snafus, we all managed to gather in Amsterdam. A dinner cruise was the perfect way to get to know each other and see the sights. Enjoy the photos!
Tour participants representing St. Norbert College staff, faculty, alumni, board of trustees, donors and friends will be gathering in Amsterdam on June 25. Be sure to follow along on our 2-week journey through the Netherlands, Belgium and France, visiting sites of Norbertine significance.