Saint Norbert was born in Xanten on the left bank of the Rhine, near Wesel, in the Electorate of Cologne. He grew up there and was also educated there. His father, Heribert, Count of Gennep, was related to the imperial house of Germany and the House of Lorraine. Ordained as a subdeacon, Norbert was appointed to a canonry at Xanten where he lived a life of pleasure. Soon after, he was summoned to the court of Frederick of Cologne and later to that of Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor, where he became the emperor’s almoner (a church officer in charge of distributing charity). He avoided ordination to the priesthood and even declined an appointment as bishop of Cambrai in 1113. Norbert allowed himself to be so carried away by pleasure that nothing short of a miracle of grace could make him lead the life of an earnest cleric. Following a near-fatal horse-riding accident, his faith deepened and he renounced his appointment at Court. He returned to Xanten to lead a life of penance, placing himself under the direction of Cono, Abbot of St Sigeberg, near Cologne. In 1115, Norbert founded the Abbey of Fürstenberg.

In 1119 the bishop of Laon requested Norbert to found a religious order in the Diocese of Laon, so that his work might be perpetuated after his death. The young community at first lived in huts of wood and clay, arranged like a camp around the chapel of St. John the Baptist, but they soon built a larger church and a monastery for the religious who joined them in increasing numbers. Going to Cologne to obtain relics for their church, Norbert discovered through a vision, the spot where those of St. Ursula and her companions, of St. Gereon, and of other martyrs lay hidden. Before long bishops were asking Norbert to open new houses all over France and Germany. Many noble men and women joined his order. Once, Norbert was met by Theobald, Count of Champagne, who wished to become a member of the order; but Norbert insisted that God wished Theobald to marry and do good in the world. Theobald agreed to this, but begged Norbert to prescribe a rule of life. Norbert prescribed a few rules and invested Theobald with the white scapular of the order, and thus, in 1122, the Third Order of St. Norbert was instituted.

St. Norbert preached against, and overcame the Sacramentarian heresy, which denied the real presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.  Some who fell prey to his heresy stole consecrated hosts to desecrate them, but Norbert convinced many of them to return sacred hosts.

When two rival popes were elected after the death of Honorius II, Norbert helped try to heal the Church by getting his admirer the emperor to support the first elected, Innocent II. At the end of his life he was made an archbishop but he died soon after on June 6, 1134 at the age of 53.

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