Growing up in a tight-knit Italian family in South Philadelphia, Father Joseph Serano had always been aware of the importance of family and community. This was a key factor in leading him to the Norbertine Order to fulfill his vocation to the priesthood, living the Rule of St. Augustine: “We seek to be of one mind and one heart on the way to God.”
In 7th grade, Father Joseph’s family moved from St. Thomas Aquinas Parish to St. Monica Parish. It was at this time that Father Serano began to discover his calling to the Catholic priesthood.
Like many men at Daylesford Abbey, Father Joseph first encountered the Norbertines at Bishop Neumann High School. While a student, he worked in the Treasurer’s office with his best friend selling bus tokens before and after school from sophomore year to senior year. Father Gaghan, the treasurer, invited the young Joe Serano and his friend to visit Daylesford Abbey (Daylesford Priory at the time).
“He was our boss; we couldn’t say no,” Father Joseph joked.
As a freshman in high school, Father Joseph attended an open house at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary on a dreary, rainy day. St. Charles is a beautiful, but vast complex, with long, impersonal corridors that were not very appealing. By contrast, his visit to Daylesford as a high school Junior was vastly different. Daylesford was small and friendly. This weekend represented a crossroads in his life. It was then when he embraced his calling to the Catholic priesthood. Daylesford provided a very different experience, one that excited him.
Father Joseph decided that weekend he would join the Norbertine Order. He truly admired their sense of purpose at Daylesford. They were happy. The men joked with one another. Father also recalled that the Norbertines were wonderful teachers, and they were always kind. Their sense of togetherness reminded Father Joseph of his family. His visit to Daylesford rang true to him.
Father Joseph graduated from Bishop Neumann in June of 1960 and joined Daylesford in August of 1960. After going to Saint Norbert College in Wisconsin, he was sent to Europe to study theology. While living in England, he attended a Jesuit school outside of Oxford. His experience with the Jesuits further reinforced his Norbertine vocation. In 1969, Father Joseph was ordained a Catholic priest. He then returned to England for a year but came back to Daylesford in 1970 to teach novices and seminarians.
Father Joseph always assumed he would then spend the rest of his life teaching theology to his young confreres. But, in 1974, the Norbertines at Daylesford began sending men to Catholic Theological Union to study, which made him available to replace a Jesuit professor leaving Philadelphia’s St. Joseph’s University on sabbatical. He was later asked to join St. Joe’s staff full-time, but he did not have a PhD. This led him to Washington’s Catholic University of America, where he completed his Doctorate degree in Sacred Theology (getting an S.T.D.,which is the Latin abbreviation for Sacrae Theolgiae Doctor).
As life goes, upon his return to Daylesford, he expected to teach full-time, but in a full-circle moment the community asked him to be the Treasurer. God certainly has a sense of humor.
Father Joseph taught at St. Joe’s for 25 years, mostly part-time, so that he could also be the Treasurer part time. His teaching experience helped refine his preaching skills. He was better able to prepare what he wanted to say in the time he had to say it during Mass.
“Teaching and preaching go hand in hand,” Father Joseph said. “Looking back, I believe God called me to teach and preach.”
Father Joseph’s experience as a Norbertine also allows him an empathetic world view. He maintains that the Norbertine charism is still so important today in two concepts: ministry ad-extra (going out to the larger world) and ministry ad-intra (serving within the Abbey). Father noted that working on communion within yourself and the community in which you live on a “shared journey on the way to God” is key to what the Norbertines tradition calls communio. The Norbertines live together in shared, lived experience, one with God together. “We should share that witness with a larger community.”
With so much polarization in the world today, Father Joseph notes that finding common ground can lead people back on the path of togetherness. We all need to work together, admit when we are wrong and admit when we don’t know something and need help. Taking the time to listen to others is the first step towards unity.
Father also believes that trying to learn to listen to one another helps us to learn to listen to God. Prayer is about “listening” to what God wants of me (far more than it is about asking/petitions). There is a connection between learning to listen to one another and listening to God, a genuine reciprocity between communion with God and with each other. The Norbertine “motto” for their 900th Anniversary is “One with God. Together with the People.”
This sense of community within the Norbertine community might be the secret to a religious order with a 900-year history. Those who join the Norbertines are not entering an “experiment” but are answering a call to an “experience” of people who have lived this journey for centuries.
Father’s experience in joining the Norbertines is that you don’t lose any part of yourself (He still maintains many hobbies, such as playing Scrabble and Words with Friends, reading spy and mystery novels and engaging in political discourse). Rather, you gain a shared experience with a close community on your common journey to God. Father would challenge young men discerning their vocation to be open to the risk in joining the Norbertines.
Father Joseph advises anyone considering religious life at Daylesford Abbey to connect with the Norbertine community at the Abbey. Attend Mass on Sundays and weekdays, speak with the Abbot and vocation team, spend a weekend living at the Abbey and ask God where it is He wants you to go.
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.