ROME – While only two years shy of the 900th anniversary of its foundation, the Norbertine order in California shows no signs of aging. The religious order, which endeavors to carry forward the old and engage with the new, launched a website on Nov. 1 that promises to bring its charisma outside the abbey walls.
“The Abbot’s Circle, as St. John Paul II prophesied, is ‘the first Areopagus of the modern age’ since it forms and engages its members in the authentic and traditional teaching of the Church’s Magisterium by means of video, audio and written content easily accessible on your smart phone, computer or tablet,” said Norbertine Father Justin Ramos in an email to Crux.
The new internet platform, called the Abbot’s Circle, was created by the Norbertine community in St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California, as part of a wider project to expand and develop a new abbey.
The order, which almost faced extinction at the beginning of the 19th century, now prides itself on having “a vocation crisis of a different kind,” with too many men wishing to join given the abbey’s capacity. The Norbertines at St. Michael count a robust 38 young men in formation, 50 priests and nine new postulants.
In what the order calls “one of the largest capital campaigns in the history of the Catholic Church in America,” the Norbertines have managed to collect $120 million for their plan for the new abbey, double the original request. Construction is expected to be completed in two years.
This was possible thanks to monthly donations and the interest stirred by viral online videos showcasing the order. The web television series “City of Saints,” launched in Spring 2017, reached over a million views by presenting the ministry of the white-clad Norbertine priests in Southern California.
The Abbot’s Circle represents the second step in “expanding our ministry beyond our abbey wall,” said Shane Giblin, Chief Advancement Officer at St. Michel’s Abbey, in an interview with Crux.
Watching the success of the seven-part web series “further encouraged us that what we have is something special, and the world is hungry,” adding, “the fathers profoundly impacted people in a way that I’ve never seen before.”
According to Giblin, it was in large part thanks to this impact that the order was able to put together such a large sum, and the Abbot’s Circle is a way to show gratitude toward those who believe in their ministry.
“It shows how much the community values the incredible work that they do,” he said, and “we wanted to thank them and give them spiritual nourishment.”
On the site, faithful can find anything from the web series to Norbertine videos explaining the meaning of “consubstantial,” to spiritual reflections and even the Latin chants that make the order a staple of the California religious scene.
“St. Norbert, a Catholic reformer, founded the Norbertines to lift up a demoralized clergy, preach to the lay faithful, and so renew the Church in difficult times,” said Father Chrysostom Baer, Prior of St. Michael’s Abbey, in the Nov. 1 press release.
“We are fulfilling this very same mission today, in a time when both laity and clergy are demoralized by scandal, by using new media to connect with the faithful and offer support and guidance,” he said.
The Norbertines combine a monastic lifestyle with active ministry, so that while placing an emphasis on a communal life of prayer, its priests also cater to the disabled, teach at various levels and serve the sick and the elderly. Over 1,000 liturgies are celebrated every month at the abbey, but the Norbertines believe the internet holds the key to reaching and evangelizing today’s masses.
A system to reach the priests, “Ask a Norbertine,” is scheduled for next month as well as a program that would allow faithful to ask for prayers during Mass. Giblin also said that an App is in the works for next year.
“Fathers have astutely noticed that the internet is not going away anytime soon, and they see a real need to leverage that, and harness that, in terms of communicating with people and getting back to them, but also in terms of evangelizing,” Giblin said.
Lifting the curtain though the internet and allowing believers to look in, he said, has proven to be a powerful tool for the Norbertines in terms of rebuilding their spiritual ties with the community, which at times can feel a bit severed.
“The fathers are incredibly humble,” Giblin said, “they don’t tell enough people about how special they are.”
The web series was a sneak-peak into opening the doors of the abbey, he said, and the online platform is a means to be a more “interactive” religious community.
“We hope this website too will tell their story for them,” Giblin added, and “inspire people to live lives of greater virtue.”