Who was St. Norbert?

DE PERE, Wis. (WBAY) - He lived 900 years ago and has a De Pere college named after him, but who was Saint Norbert?

Former St. Norbert College president Thomas Kunkel at a book signing for "Man on Fire," about the life of the college's namesake (WBAY photo)

A new book aims to reveal the life of Norbert of Xanten -- written by a former St. Norbert College president.

When Thomas Kunkel was hired as president of St. Norbert College in 2008, he started to learn about the Norbertine Order and realized something.

"One of the things that dawned on me was that we did not have a good, accessible, modern telling of history. He didn't have a book that we could give a new student or a new faculty member or a new trustee, say, 'Here, 900 years long, here's the guy that started it all and this is what it was all about.'"

That burning desire to tell St. Norbert's story stuck with Kunkel, and when he retired two years ago he went to work on the book.

He traveled to Europe to visit key historical locations of the Norbertines -- and Norbert himself -- during the 11th and early 12th centuries.

"He rubbed elbows with some of the most powerful people in the medieval period, then had a conversion experience and dedicated his life to God, and really less than 20 years from that point he was a wandering preacher, he founded this order, the Norbertines, that became the biggest order of the day in Europe, an incredibly influential order."

"In fact," Kunkel continued, "in the last stage of his life, he was effectively the Henry Kissinger of the 12th century, and he was mediating disputes and power plays between the emperor and the Pope."

It took Kunkel about a year to write "Man on Fire: The Life and Spirit of Norbert Xanten," and during the process he says he discovered a remarkable man.

"I wanted to do the book for a lot of reasons: Because of who he was and his importance to the community and to our college, but the reason I enjoyed it so much was because he was just such an interesting cat... and somebody who 900 years later, his legacy in many ways still exists."

"Man on Fire" is available at the St. Norbert College bookstore (click here) and Amazon (click here).