Saint Norbert (1080-1134)
Saint Norbert founded a religious order of Canons regular, now known as the Norbertines, in the 12th century. Canons are similar to monks in that they live in community, but they differ because they leave their residences and go out to engage in the wider community.
Norbert was born in 1080 in Xanten, in present-day Germany. As the son of nobility, he enjoyed a wealthy lifestyle and good education. He was more interested in making social connections than serving the Church.
At the age of 35, in 1115, Norbert had a near-fatal accident which changed his life. Thrown from his horse, Norbert lay unconscious for quite some time. Tradition holds that his first words upon awakening were the same words Saul spoke on the road to Damascus: “Lord, what do you want me to do?” At that point, Norbert returned home, resigned from the royal court and adopted a life of prayer and penance. In that same year, Norbert was ordained, and he founded the Abbey of Fürstenberg on property he donated.
Devoted to the Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady, Norbert led a life of poverty and self-discipline. He became an itinerant preacher, traveling barefoot across northern Europe with two companions preaching moral reform. In northern France, Norbert gained approval of the local bishop and secured land from him. There, at Prémontré, he founded a community based on the rule of St. Augustine. His first 13 disciples lived in huts made of wood and clay until the growth of the community required building a larger church and monastery. By 1122, Norbert had established 10 more houses.
Norbertine Canons today work throughout the world as university chaplains, in parishes and in the field of education. Norbert was canonized about 400 years after his death, in 1582.