by Dawn March, Staff Writer
Many people know that Brother Norman W. Hipps, O.S.B. is Saint Vincent College’s newest president. He took office on July 1, 2010 after President Jim Towey resigned. But what was Brother Norman doing before his presidency? Or even before becoming a Benedictine?
Brother Norman Hipps, born as William Hipps, was born in the small town of Carrolltown, in Cambria County, Pennsylvania. He is the son of the late Blanche and George Russell Hipps, and the brother of George Edward Hipps, who currently resides in Williamsburg, Virginia. Brother Norman remembers his childhood fondly. As a child, he enjoyed being outdoors and playing sports, whether on his Little League team or pick-up games of touch football and wiffle ball in his neighborhood. The town he lived in was small, so the children often had to create their own recreation. Br. Norman said they discovered that the small plastic lemons or limes that contained lemon and lime juice made the perfect wiffle ball. “You would empty the lemon of course,” he said, “and if you threw the lemon with the opening to the wind, it had a really sharp curve.”
Br. Norman thought he wanted to be a priest as early as the sixth grade. “My uncle was a monk and my older brother was studying at Saint Vincent,” he said. When asked if he parents were supportive of his decision, he explained that his father passed away when he was just six years old. “My mother and I were very close,” he said. “We did a lot of things together, like going fishing.” He said his parents had a strong religious influence on him. Br. Norman left his home and his mother, a stay-at-home mom, at the age of fourteen to go to Preparatory School. His plan was to go to Saint Vincent Preparatory School, and then join the Monastery as a priest. “It was hard for my mother to let me go, but growing up in a strong Catholic family, it was an honor for her son to become a priest.”
In Preparatory School, there were two groups the boys were split into: those planning to enter the monastery and those who were not. Br. Norman spoke about his schooling: “We had four years of Latin and English, and two years of another language.” He described the living conditions as “army barracks,” explaining that there was a large room with about fifty beds. In the morning, the boys would get up in silence, and clean up. Once dressed the boys would line up shortest to tallest, and go to Morning Prayer. After this, they would eat breakfast in silence, and then proceed to class. There was a period of recreation, where the boys would play sports. Br. Norman said he enjoyed playing basketball, touch-football, volleyball, and softball during school. After recreation, the boys would head back to class, have a study hall period, and then eat dinner in silence as they listened to a public reading. They would have an evening prayer, and then proceed to bed. During Preparatory school, the boys could have visitors once a month on a Sunday afternoon, and were allowed to only write two letters a week to family and loved ones.
Upon graduating Preparatory School in 1961, Br. Norman received his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Philosophy in 1966 from Saint Vincent College. He later obtained a Master of Arts Degree in Mathematics, and his Ph.D. in Mathematics from Northwestern University. He taught mathematics for two years while writing his dissertation and in 1978 became Saint Vincent College’s Director of Opportunity. Just two years later in 1980, Br. Norman became the Academic Dean, and in 1987 he became the Provost. For the past five years, Br. Norman was the Dean of the Boyer School.
On July 2, 1964, Br. Norman made a simple profession of his monastic vows, and three years later on July 11, 1967, he made his solemn profession of vows. Although his initial plan was to become a priest, Br. Norman chose to remain a brother instead. He explained that in the 1960s, there was a sense of “social unrest and discrimination.” There was a time of cultural change, and Br. Norman decided not to become ordained. He was able to take more mathematics classes, instead of the specified classes for becoming a priest.
When asked what he would have been had he not have joined the monastery, Br. Norman asked, “I have a brother, he’s married with four children, so would I have been anything else? I would have enjoyed having a family, yes,” he elaborated. “But I like to think that I have 1,700 children here.”
Br. Norman also discussed his decision to become SVC’s President. When President Towey announced he was going to be leaving, a committee was established, including members of the Board of Directors, alumni, faculty and administrators. Their task was to identify a set of qualities the new president should have. “When they expressed a strong preference for an internal candidate, I thought there was a possibility of becoming president,” Br. Norman explained. When Archabbot Douglas R. Nowicki asked Br. Norman to become the new president, he accepted. “Although I did love what I was doing at the Boyer School,” he said.
Br. Norman is now currently serving as the President of Saint Vincent College to more than 2,000 students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate courses.