God writes straight with crooked lines.
The plan God has for us is perfect, even though we can seldom see what He is asking of us. Father John Novielli’s path to the Norbertine Order at Daylesford Abbey took unexpected turns and he encountered some obstacles toward fulfilling his vocation to the Catholic priesthood. But looking back over his life, it is clear how God was with him along the journey.
Born to Italian immigrants, Father John was raised in South Philadelphia with his three brothers. Father grew up during an amazing moment in time for both the Catholic church and the United States. His childhood was spent in post-World War II Philadelphia. The immigrant Italian community of South Philadelphia was quintessentially close knit which was buttressed by the strong commitment to the Catholic faith. Men worked. Moms raised the children. Kids played outside until the streetlamps were lit. Everyone went to a Catholic school. Faith, family and a strong work ethic were hallmarks that characterized Father’s upbringing and ultimately informed his vocation to the Catholic priesthood.
Father’s family were members of the St. Edmund’s Parish, where he attended school and was taught by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. When he was younger, he attended Mass almost daily and also served as an altar boy in his parish. The Catholic faith was always central to Father John’s life. But he was also extremely social. In his hay day, Father would attend up to three dances a week at area Catholic schools! Father also worked part time jobs helping support the family.
From a young age, Father John Novielli thought of becoming a Catholic priest. The culture of Catholicism was quite different in Father’s youth (the late 1940’s and into the 1950’s). Fulfilling a vocation to serve God and join the priesthood was commonplace among young men. Father’s young life was characterized by a Catholic education and practicing his Catholic faith so a calling to become an ordained priest came to him clearly.
After graduating from St. Edmund’s, Father John attended Bishop Neumann High School where he first met the Norbertines. Looking back, he was drawn to their white habit and their down to earth personality. Even at this age, young John Novielli could see a distinction between the Norbertines and diocesan priests. He saw that the men staffing his high school were not only teachers, but mentors and became older brothers to him.
This is what Father John wanted in life: To become a Norbertine.
The men at Daylesford Abbey have varied backgrounds and experienced different journeys that led them to the Norbertine order. Their calling was always in them, and God helped them realize it one way or another. Father John recalls that while he always wanted to enter the priesthood, his path diverged, saying, “God writes straight with crooked lines.” God always knew Father John would serve him as a Catholic priest, but God had other ideas for young John Novielli before he got there.
As a senior in high school, Father John applied to join the Norbertines. However, around this same time, his father became ill. His parents were older and needed help financially and so he withdrew his application to Daylesford Abbey.
While working to support his family, Father John took night classes at St. Joe’s. He was employed at different jobs including working as a clerk in a grocery store, working in a paint lab and he even had a brief stint at Philadelphia’s famous automat Horn and Hardart!
Father John was told he could not re-apply to Daylesford, but he still felt called to Religious Life. So, he looked into other orders. Over the years, he had become friendly with the vocation director at a Trappist community in Virginia and considered joining.
This idea was not popular with either of his parents. Always social, Father John’s mother told him he should not think of becoming a Trappist because he “could not keep [his] mouth shut that long.” His father also worried about never being able to see him again.
Listening to the Holy Spirit through the insights of his parents, Father John met with Father Joe (“Holy Joe”) Coleman, a diocesan priest stationed in Chester. Father Joe became a mentor and spiritual director to the young John Novielli and advised him to apply to the Norbertine Order as a brother. Father was accepted quickly after doing so.
At that time, the Norbertine Order, like many other religious communities of men, had both priests and brothers. Both priests and brothers are part of the same community, but each has different roles.
Father John noted that he was happy as a brother within the community at Daylesford. He soon became the secretary to the Major Superior, which he took as a great honor as it was a position generally given to a priest. Father took his solemn vows in 1969. As a brother, he became more involved with the sacramental aspects of life at Daylesford, like visiting hospitals to anoint the sick, as well as offering counseling to those in need.
As earlier mentioned, God writes straight with crooked lines. Father’s journey to fulfill his calling from God took some turns, but he soon began to feel a “calling within a calling.” Father John began to discern with the community his vocation to the Catholic priesthood.
Never one for studies, Father John did not have the academic background required to become a priest. In his childhood, he placed more focus on socializing and attended dances at Catholic schools around South Philly, as well as working two or three jobs to help his family. He noted he only got one 100% grade in his life, which was coincidentally on a Religion project!
But with a renewed desire to pursue the Catholic priesthood, in 1970 Father Novielli began his studies, taking night classes at Villanova. Father was ordained on May 25, 1974.
Throughout his life at Daylesford, Father has held many positions. He was secretary to the Superior, a Prior for 27 years, Treasurer and did Parish work (he was at Annunciation Parish from 1990-1992 and St. Gabriel’s Parish from 1992-1996). He has also served as Chaplain at Villa Maria Academy for 45 years.
The charism of reconciliation is central to the Norbertine Order. Reconciliation flows from prayer life, which is centered on worship, service, communion and contemplation. Father noted that reconciliation is so important given our fractured world.
Father has observed that many people are stuck in their way of thinking and are not open to others. He noted people carry so much anger and lack appreciation for their brothers and sisters in God’s family. Listening to others and listening to God leads to better communication and puts us on the path to reconciliation and unity. The world needs more people willing to put their views aside to listen to the views of others. Men interested in bringing about reconciliation and healing should consider doing so with Daylesford Abbey.
Father John believes those who feel called to a vocation should pray seriously about their calling. God will reveal the answer to those who pray and communicate with Him. Father also notes seeking a spiritual director that can help guide them. He recommends visiting various religious communities and understanding what you are drawn to are also important in making this decision.
God gives us choices. He loves us and asks for love in return. Part of the choices God gives us is to see what fits us (like a well-tailored suit). Father John challenges young men to find what they are comfortable with and where they can be happy and fulfilled in their journey to God.
Remember, when God calls, He also graces us with the answer.
For those on the journey to fulfill their vocation to God, please contact us today if you are interested in joining the Norbertine order. We welcome you to reach out to Abbot Domenic A. Rossi for further information at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 610-647-2530.