The Monk Called Speedy Gonzales

Past Associate Pastors: Fr. Norbert Russwurm, OSB (1928-1932)
Published on May 24-25, 2014 in the Parish Bulletin of Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY

The Rev. Norbert Russwurm, OSB, was born on September 3, 1893, in Untergleim, Bavaria, Germany, and received the name Bartholomew at his baptism. He studied classical languages and literature at the Königliche Realschule (now the Hans-Leinberger Gymnasium) in Landshut, Bavaria, Germany, before immigrating to the United States  at the age of nineteen. He arrived in New York City on board the TSS Rotterdam on September 9, 1912.

Bartholomew Russwurm professed his vows as a monk of the Order of Saint Benedict (OSB) on June 28, 1914 at Saint Bernard Abbey in Cullman, Alabama, and took the name Norbert in religion. He was ordained to the priesthood on September 8, 1921 by the Right Rev. Edward P. Allen (1853-1926), the fifth Bishop of Mobile (1897-1926).

The abbot of Saint Bernard’s sent Fr. Norbert, OSB, to serve under the Rev. Placidus Becker, OSB (1873-1948), who was then the pastor (1922-1936) of Sacred Heart Church in Corbin, Kentucky. He served as the associate there from 1923 to 1926 and as the chaplain of its parochial school, Saint Camillus Academy (closed in 2013). That parish left such a lasting impression on him that he would later choose to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of his priestly ordination there in 1946.

After ill health forced Fr. Matthew Newman, OSB (1895-1929), to step down from active ministry, Fr. Norbert, OSB, was sent to serve under Fr. Sebastian Siemer, OSB (1876-1936), as the associate pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Church in Danville, Kentucky. He ministered mainly at the two missions in Mercer County, Saint Andrew Church in Harrodsburg and Saint Nicholas Church in Rose Hill, from 1928 to 1932.

He left parish work in 1932 after suffering a serious breakdown and returned to Saint Bernard’s to teach the classics at the school and to serve as its librarian. It was around this time that he wrote a biography of the Rev. Paul J. Volk (1841-1919), the missionary who had ministered at Saint Andrew Church from 1893 to 1895 and founded Saint Nicholas Church in 1894. The book, titled Rev. Paul Joseph Volk: A Pioneer Missionary in Two Continents, was published by the Saint Bernard Abbey Book Shop in 1937.  

The abbot again assigned Fr. Norbert, OSB, to do parish work in 1940, and he served various churches in Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Florida until failing health forced his retirement to the abbey in 1961. In his retirement, he so endeared himself to the students at Saint Bernard’s that they nicknamed him “Speedy Gonzales.” He was known to regale them with his anecdotes and he was in their company at the Student Lounge when he suffered the stroke that resulted in his death ten hours later.

Fr. Norbert, OSB, died on October 1, 1963 at the age of seventy. He was buried in the Saint Bernard Abbey cemetery.

~ by Fr. Noel F. Zamora on Saturday, May 24, 2014.

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