GREEN BAY — A statue of St. Norbert, made by a 15th-generation wood carver from Oberammergau, in Bavaria, Germany, graces the entrance to St. Francis Xavier Cathedral. The five-foot statue, carved of linden wood, is a gift from St. Norbert Abbey.
About three or four years ago, Norbertine Abbot Gary Neville was at a chrism Mass in the cathedral and looked around at the many statues there.
“There were a lot of statues,” he told The Compass, “but I realized, ‘There’s no statue of St. Norbert here. And since we’ve (the Norbertine community) been here since 1893, almost 120 years. … So I went to Bishop (David) Ricken after the liturgy and asked, ‘What’s the possibility of putting a statue in cathedral?’”
The bishop agreed and the Norbetines began the search for one. First, they inquired about a used statue at various European abbeys. Then they sought already-made statues. No luck.
“Norbert just isn’t one of those saints where a whole lot of people are making him,” Abbot Neville said.
However, Deacon Michael Vincent of Green Bay directed the abbot to the wood carver who had made the crests for both Bishop David Zubik and Bishop Ricken in the cathedral. The rest is history.
Joseph-Christian Albl’s family have been wood carvers since 1556. Guided by suggestions of artist Norbertine Fr. Steve Rossey, sketches of St. Norbert were made and sent to Albl. He made a 14-inch statue — that now stands by the entrance to the abbey’s dining room — as a reference. Finally, the full-size statue was commissioned. It arrived two years ago and spent nearly a year at the abbey.
“People fell in love with him. … So he began growing roots. We moved him a year ago, last May, so his roots wouldn’t grow too deep,” Abbot Neville explained, with a laugh.
Some people ask why the statue has Norbert standing on a snake, and mistake him for St. Patrick of Ireland. But the snake represents the Dutch heretic, Tanchelm, Abbot Neville explained.
Albl’s work has been so popular with the Norbertines, that they commissioned statues of all the Norbertine saints and blesseds — 16 so far, with a few more yet to do. The three-foot tall statues ring the abbey’s refectory (dining hall).