History of Abbot Pennings High School

Notre Dame Academy's History Page has a small write-up on the origins of Abbot Pennings High School.  An earlier version of that web page had more detail.

"St. Norbert High School was founded in 1898 as the first educational institution established by the Norbertine Order in the United States. Founded as a college prep boarding school and located on St. Norbert College campus until 1959, in what is today Boyle Hall, St. Norbert High School began with four registered students and their teacher, Abbot Bernard Pennings, O. Praem.

"In 1959, the location and name of the school changed. St. Norbert High School, whose enrollment had grown to 180 students, became Abbot Pennings High School, and they moved into the building that formerly housed Nicolet High School in West De Pere. In 1967, the Norbertine Order, due to enrollment gains, added to the school's physical facilities by purchasing the Congregational church and converting in into the Music Hall.

"In 1925, Abbot Pennings chose the motto, "Diligamus invicem," "Let us love one another." This motto formed the hallmark in the history of St. Norbert High School and Abbot Pennings High School."

In the 1980s, enrollment was about 300.  The physical campus had not changed much since 1967, consisting of the main school building and the band hall.  I'm not sure Abbot Pennings' "Let us love one another" motto would have gone over too well at an all boys school in the 80s.  I don't recall ever hearing that one.  I always thought our motto was "Milites Sumus Christi" from the Abbot Pennings crest.  My one year of Latin translates it as, "We are Soldiers of Christ."

Pennings always had solid financial support from the Norbertines and its alumni, but by the late 1980s, the other two Catholic high schools, Premontre and St. Joseph's Academy, were struggling.  Premontre went coed to try to keep enrollment up, which took away students from the Academy.  The powers-that-be decided that Green Bay would be better served by one Catholic high school instead of three and created Notre Dame de la Baie, housing it on the Premontre site.

They didn't handle the PR part well, and there were candlelight vigils, news coverage, outrage and much sadness in the Pennings community as the school closed in 1990.  We had a good run and won our State Basketball Tournament that final year, which struck me as a positive swan song for the "DePere Abbot Pennings" name, as the state's sports media called it.  The Pennings building is still in it's place, next to the new bridge in DePere.  St. Norbert College owns it and uses it as the "Pennings Activity Center" which houses offices and meeting space for various campus organizations.  (It's Number 1 on this SNC Campus Map.)

One more historical note, I had always heard that the APHS building was originally a DePere public high school (evidently Nicolet High School from the quote above) before the Norbertines acquired it in 1959.  That always made sense to me because it seemed like it was a hundred years old when we were there.  It was and is still quite a sturdy old building.  In the early 1980s, they did a big window replacement project.  Those 8 foot high windows used to be single pane glass with real mullions, and were replaced with a top half made of insulation board and modern sliding windows on the bottom.  It wasn't an accurate historical retrofit of the building, but it didn't look bad and I remember upperclassmen telling me how much better (warmer) it was with the new windows.

In April of 2010, I got an e-mail from Jeff Clancy (APHS '62.)  He updated me on some of the plays they did while he was there.  I asked him some questions about the early days of Pennings because I've always wondered if it was mostly a name change or if Pennings felt like a different school than SNCHS.  Here's his response in an e-mail on April 20, 2010:

"I went to Premontre for my freshman year and started Pennings as a sophomore. That year 59 & 60 was the 1st year in the ￿new￿ building and the 1st year as APHS ￿ not St. Norbert. It felt like new in that it was all painted & spruced up. However, it had been a school before and therefore didn￿t feel like a brand new school.


"We did have sports from the start ￿ in fact the St. Norbert 58 & 59 yearbook had sports in it. The biggest difference ￿ I think ￿ is that St. Norbert was much more of a boarding school on the college campus and Pennings still had some boarders but it was much more dominated by the locals. The boarders stayed on the St. Norbert College campus through their graduation but I don￿t think we accepted any new boarders. So I guess boarding was ￿grandfathered￿ with the new school.


"Father Meehan was there as a novitiate and became a priest while I was there. Yes, Fr. Feldman was there as principal.


"Like you, I feel privileged to have gone there. I do have yearbooks from 1959 through 1962, so if you have any questions, I would be glad to look them up."

More details on the building from a St. Norbert Collecge handout on the "Pennings Activity Center" building from an open house in Fall 2015:

This three-story brick building was constructed in 1923 as Nicolet High School for the West De Pere School District.  It was purchased in 1959 by the Norbertine Order and became Abbot Pennings High School.  From 1959 until 1990, almost 9,000 young men graduated from Abbot Pennings High School.  The Fighting Squires athletic teams saw their share of success and championships in football, soccer, basketball, cross country, tennis, track and baseball.

The high school closed in 1990 when it consolidated with Green Bay's St. Joseph Academy and Premontre High School which became Notre Dame de la Baie Academy of Green Bay.  Many loyal alumni remain in touch through reunions, golf outings and the Abbot Pennings High School Group on Facebook.

St. Norbert College purchased the Building in August of 1990 and it became Pennings Activity Center.  The building contains the original gymnasium and performance space.  Many of the classrooms have been converted to offices and conference rooms.  For several years it served as the home for many of the College's student programs, including the offices of Cultural Diversity, and the Office of Leadership, Service and Involvment, as well as Communications and ROTC.  Presently space is dedicated to the Campus Safety Office, as well as conference/meeting rooms, and faculty offices.

The building was named to the National Register of Historic Places in June, 2015.  Future plans for the building are not solidified, but it will continue to play a central role on the St. Norbert College campus and remain a landmark in the city of De Pere.

This write-up is a little redundant because they got much of the information from this site.  But there was some info I didn't know so it makes sense to include it here.  I had not heard that it was designated on the National Register of Historic Places until I saw this.  Thanks to Bonnie Elfner (Mom) for sending it on.  She was a tour guide at Pennings during the open house!


If you have memories from your time at Pennings that you'd like to share, please send them to me (elf(at)abbotpennings.com.)  If we get a few, perhaps we could create some sort of memories page.



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Contact Eric Elfner at elf(at)abbotpennings.com with additions, corrections or comments on this site.
This page last updated November 23, 2015