In Memoriam: Fr. Norbert Feld

This evening I received the very sad news that Father Norbert Feld (Society of St. Columban ordination class of 1949) died today at the age of 87. Fr. Feld was my philosophy professor in the early ‘60s when he was in his mid-thirties. Norbie was one of my most memorable teachers at the major seminary level in Milton, MA, which I attended from 1960 to 1967.

In fact, each morning I remember him in my prayers as one of my three most influential professors at that level along with Eamonn O’Doherty and John Marley. From Eamonn I learned the science and art of scriptural interpretation. His impact on me can’t be measured. From Fr. Marley I learned about liturgy; he also introduced me to theological giants like Hans Kung, Teilhard de Chardin and Edward Schillebeeckx. Not insignificantly, Fr. Marley was my spiritual director who sympathetically helped me through the crises involved in exiting the priesthood after so many years of preparing to enter it.

I’m not sure how to characterize what I learned from Fr. Feld. I don’t remember much of what he taught me about philosophy – except that he once said that Rene Descartes “didn’t know his head from his elbow.” But I think Fr. Feld woke me up to politics and the art of independent thinking. That, I think, is why I remember him as so influential.

Hearing that from me might surprise some of my seminary colleagues, since Norbie was an extreme conservative, while I’ve become the polar opposite. William Buckley and the editors of The National Review were his heroes. Norbie disliked the Kennedys, and had little sympathy for the anti-war protestors. I don’t remember what he thought of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement.

As for his philosophy classes, they were memorable for his avoidance of the topic. I mean Fr. Feld would devote half to three-quarters of almost every class to discussing “current events” rather than the Scholastics, Enlightenment thinkers, or Existentialists. We’d always encourage my classmate, Frank Hynes, to egg Norbie on. “Hynie” (who later became a Boston politician himself) was much more politically literate than the rest of us who had been cooped up in the seminary since puberty. He was also more liberal than Fr. Feld. So he knew how to “get Norbie going.” It worked every time, and we all loved it.

Fr. Feld was also an athlete. He played football with us, and always hit hard; he was good about taking hard hits too. He’d play baseball with us as well. However, his best sport was hockey. He was as good as any of us. And “he didn’t need no stinkin’ shin guards” either. Instead he’d protect his legs with folded cardboard cartons tucked into his hockey socks. I remember one time he led us all in the building of an outdoor hockey rink in the seminary quadrangle. He was really serious about it. And each evening in the coldest weather while we were in “study hall,” we could see him out there sprinkling the rink’s surface to make it smooth for the next day’s play.

When we weren’t studying, he’d be after us to work on the rink with him. “Holy Honk!” he’d say, “you all want to play hockey. But you gotta to do the work. ‘Criminetley,’ get out here and help!” Maybe I learned that from him too – the expectation of hard work, and how to ‘swear’ like a priest.

Along with others, I’ve told Eamonn how much I appreciated what I learned from him. I’ve also thanked Fr. Marley for what he taught me about liturgy and theology, and for the help he gave me when I needed it most. I regret that I never expressed my gratitude to Fr. Feld for all he gave me.

Again, I’m not quite sure how to name his gift. But it was real. And whatever it was, I’ll remain eternally grateful to him for it.

Thank you, Father Feld. Please rest in peace!

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 40 years. Three grown children. Four grandchildren.

7 thoughts on “In Memoriam: Fr. Norbert Feld”

  1. Norberts have been significant in my life as well (I’m 77). The first Norbie was my first love and while I married another, we kept up until his death in 1992. The second was a Basilian priest named Norbert Clemens, born on the feast of St. Norbert, June 6, and died at 88; also conservative but a dear friend and model of priesthood. May “my Norberts” and yours rest in eternal peace.

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    1. Dona, I’m glad that my posting reminded you of these two important men in your life — although I’m sure you didn’t need it to bring them to mind. First loves and spiritual models remain so important for all of us. Thank you for telling me about yours — and for reading about the importance of Norbert Feld for me.

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  2. Mike:
    This John Marley (now living in Bristol RI). Thanks for your blog. I learned about it only today, at Norb’s funeral Mass in Bristol.

    He was worthy of your kind comments.

    I have been blogging (on wordpress) since last December, at agelessage.wordpress.com. I have just signed up as one of your followers. I think we are both singing more or less from the same page of the hymn-sheet, you focussing more on civil government structures, and I on the anachronistic church structures. My viewpoint at the moment is that only an aroused Catholic laity wll save the church – as they did at Nicaea and Chalcedon.

    Anyway, it’s great to make contact again. I look forward to hearing from you.

    With prayers and good wishes,

    John

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    1. How cool is this, John — that you and I are meeting up in the bologosphere?! I love it. And, of course, I’ll be signing up as a follower on agelessage. Love the title.My over-all goal in blogging (which I began at the end of April) is to do my small, small part to help rescue for my friends the person and challenge of Jesus in the face it their hijacking by the religious and political right. And it turns out that blogging is great fun too; don’t you agree? I really look forward to studying your blog. (By the way, somehow your name didn’t show up on my “followers” list. That’s important for me — to know that at least occasionally we’re in communication like that. Again, John, so great to be back in touch.) — Mike

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  3. Thank you, Mike.

    You certainly remember the same person I remember, though I had Norb in Oconomowoc in the late ’60s. Not only did Descartes “not know his head from his elbow” but Bergson was “dead as a dodo!”

    He certainly did hard outdoor work, tending his roses in Turramurra, another rink in Oconomowoc, and in later years: the lawns in Bristol.

    John Burger

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    1. Thanks, John. He was definitely a character. Do you remember him as personally inluential on you? If so, why? I can’t really put my finger on it. For me, my best professors were Jimmy Griffin (definitely #1), Eamonn O’Doherty, John Marley, Norbie Feld, Charlie Flaherty, Dan Boland . . . . There were others, of course, too. — Mike

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