Pennings was born to a craftsman's family in a small and remote town where agriculture and linen cottage industry were the main sources of income. Dutch Catholicism of his time was still quite rigorous and society had rather strict and traditional rules. His hometown had a Latin School where he was a pupil. At 18 he joined Berne Abbey, a monastery of the old Order of norbertines. Ordained a priest in 1886, he became a teacher at the abbey school and soon a lecturer in philosophy and moral theology to the formation program. When in 1893 his abbey was approached by an American bishop for assistance in his diocese, Pennings volunteered to go and, over the years, was followed by another 25 confreres. In 1898 he founded a monastery with a College and his confreres would lecture there of find their work in parishes of Wisconsin and other states. To get his many enterprises financed he made successful contacts with the indigenous clergy and lay people of all ranks and status, including outstanding businessmen.
By trial and error - not all that he initiated had good results - he learned to manage his human resources, but he experienced difficulty in sharing the overall responsibility with his confreres. He could only perceive it as a personal tragedy when in 1947 the head officer of the Order made him retire. Abbot Pennings is, more than half a century after his death, still a revered man about whom many anecdotes are woven. They have given him a special, if not iconic image which culminates around his grave in the crypt of the majestic abbey church where he is surrounded by all the honours of his time. But behind this all is the real man hiding and this book shows that there is more to the man than his reputation!