Brother William Jerome Borgerding, OSB
Monk of Saint John's Abbey
Born: June 27, 1916
Professed: July 11, 1940
Jerome Joseph Borgerding was born in Freeport, Minnesota, June 27, 1916, the sixth of ten children of John and Elizabeth (Kerfeld) Borgerding. He grew up on the family farm and attended Sacred Heart School in Freeport, Minnesota. He attended Saint John's Preparatory School from 1931 to 1935. Jerome's uncle, Father Thomas Borgerding OSB (1861-1956), was well known and respected among the Native American Indians in northern Minnesota whom he served as a personable and caring pastor.
In January 1936, Jerome applied to become a Benedictine brother at Saint John's Abbey. Abbot Alcuin Deutsch OSB accepted him, and he immediately went to work in the dairy barn under the diligent direction of Brother Stanislaus Zaworski OSB. On July 11, 1937, he professed first vows as a Benedictine monk. He was happy to receive the name William. When Brother Stanislaus died suddenly in 1939, Brother William was promoted to herdsman. He worked successfully to build a splendid herd of Holsteins. In 1954, for economic reasons, the herd was auctioned, and Brother William took up work on the farm at Saint Mary's Mission in Red Lake, Minnesota, where Father Egbert Goeb OSB (1902-1985) had developed a prize herd of Jersey cows. After 12 years, depressed economic conditions again forced the sale of superior cattle. Brother William returned to the abbey in July, 1966.
In 1966, Brother William -- widely and affectionately recognized as "Brother Willie" -- begin work (and ministry) as the nighttime security officer. The position quickly earned him familiarity among the students as the "Night Abbot" of Saint John's. His job, as he put it, was "to make sure the night started on time and ended at the right time, because if someone doesn't watch it, how will everyone know when it's done?" Dressed uniformly in plaid shirt, overalls, baseball cap, and a security badge pinned near his heart, he patrolled the residence halls, classrooms, and offices at night. Brother Willie dispensed generous doses of spiritual and worldly wisdom to students studying late in the residence halls. They came to welcome the interruption of his visits. Brother Willie mused on this assignment, saying, "I never had it so nice."
Brother William was a home-spun philosopher and theologian. When asked by a student for a quote by which to live, he shared: "Success has nothing to do with what you gain for yourself. Success is what you do for others."
In 1990, during an interview published in The Record, the student newspaper, he explained the meaning of the large, cryptic letters on the northwest tower of the quadrangle building: "IOGD" (in all things glorify God). Brother Willie said that the abbreviation for a Latin motto means that "whenever we do good to help others to love one another, whichever way possible, then we participate in the glory of God, we partake of it here on earth. When we die, we cannot destroy good. All the good works that we do here, God does through us, and that is success." After 34 years Brother Willie -- probably the best known monk among the students -- retired from his ministry in September, 2000.
Although retired, Brother Willie continued to patrol the campus unofficially and could often be found praying in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in the middle of the night. Over the years, Brother Willie also enjoyed working in the woodworking shop at Saint John's where he refinished and recycled castaway furniture. He made wooden toys for children and specialized in making coat racks. He called himself "a putter," an amateur at fixing furniture and making things. In 1994, the pub of the student center housed in the new Sexton Commons was named in his honor -- "Brother Willie's Pub."
Brother William was a gentle man of prayer who could beguile even strangers with fascinating stories and nuggets of pure wisdom. During his long term as Night Abbot, he shuffled thousands of miles though long corridors. He also shuffled himself into the hearts and memories of thousands of Saint John's graduates who had come to know him in the halls of their alma mater.
Brother William died on April 11, 2009, in the retirement center at Saint John's Abbey. He is survived by his sister, Mrs. Helen Ehlert (and Melvin) of Sauk Centre, many nephews and nieces, the community at Saint John's Abbey, and generations of Johnnies who came to know and love him. The monks, family, and friends will celebrate the Mass of Christian Burial for Brother William, Thursday, April 16, 2009, 3:30 p.m., in Saint John's Abbey Church. Interment in Saint John's Cemetery follows the service.
We ask each community member to offer two Masses according to the manner of his participation in the priesthood of Christ. We commend our brother, William, to your prayers.
Abbot John Klassen OSB
and the monks of Saint John's Abbey