Mourners celebrate life of Archbishop Borders

Led area Catholics from 1974 to 1989

April 23, 2010|By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun

Scores of people reflected on the life of Archbishop William D. Borders at his funeral Friday afternoon, but young and old, clergy and laity, leaders and civilians, all used the same words to describe him.

"You could always see he was happy," said Diana Liz, 14, of Baltimore, a student at the school that bears his name.

A thousand mourners, including Gov. Martin O'Malley, about a dozen bishops and 200 priests, filled the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen for a Mass of Christian burial. The service and the entombment that followed in the cathedral crypt marked the end of two days of events to honor the spiritual leader of the Archdiocese of Baltimore from 1974 to 1989, who died Monday at age 96.

Though Borders had retired by the time O'Malley came to know him, the governor said he could see how he had inspired an archdiocese that stretches from the Chesapeake Bay to the West Virginia border.

"He was a humble and giving man who exemplified the greatest gift that any servant can have, be it the church or in the life of his community, and that is the gift of humility, to be able to meet people wherever they are," O'Malley said. "He was already such a centered presence, and certainly his reputation for the work that he did when he was archbishop continued after him."

The service began with a procession of clergy that included Bishop John Ricard of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee in Florida and Bishop W. Francis Malooly of the Diocese of Wilmington, Del., both former auxiliary bishops in Baltimore.

During his homily, Malooly spoke of the Christmas celebrations he had shared with Borders for the past 15 years, and their last meeting, on Easter.

"I spent about 45 minutes reminiscing," he said. "While all the time he was asking me how I was leading the Diocese of Wilmington and what challenges I faced. I was looking back. He was always looking ahead. He was simple in the best sense of the word, direct, faith-filled and joyful."

Born in 1913 in Washington, Ind., Borders was ordained in the Archiocese of New Orleans in 1940.

At his first assignment, in a parish in Baton Rouge, La., contact with men headed to serve in World War II inspired him to enlist in the Army Chaplain Corps in 1943. He served with the 91st Infantry Division in Italy and North Africa, holding the rank of major and earning a Bronze Star for carrying a wounded soldier to safety while under fire.

After the war, Borders earned a master's degree in education at the University of Notre Dame and returned to Louisiana to serve in the newly created Diocese of Baton Rouge.

In 1968, Pope Paul VI named Borders the first bishop of the newly created Diocese of Orlando, Fla. His appointment eight years as archbishop of Baltimore later saw him move from the nation's youngest diocese to its oldest.

In Baltimore, he is remembered for overseeing the division of the archdiocese into vicariates.

Church officials say he recognized that the varied parishes across the sprawling archdiocese had many different needs. So he divided the diocese into districts to be presided over by vicar bishops, a system that Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien said this week enables the church to deliver more personal care.

Sister Maria Luz Ortiz, 70, moved recently to Baltimore from Orlando.

"I heard of so many things about him that it makes me feel jealous," she said after the Mass. "I said to myself, ‘Why didn't I come here earlier?' He touched so many lives."

That sentiment was echoed by residents of the Mercy Ridge retirement community in Lutherville, where Borders lived.

"He would stand in line with the rest of us going through the café," said Lorraine Nero, 88, a Mercy Ridge resident. "He spoke to everyone, didn't make any difference whether he knew your name or not. He was just that type of person."

The group of students from Archbishop Borders School in Baltimore who attended the Mass included a few eighth-graders who remember meeting Borders at their school several years ago. They had since corresponded with him through cards and letters.

For some, Friday marked the first funeral they had ever attended.

"I felt bad" upon hearing of Borders' death, said Wavaly Turner, 14. "We had sent him letters every year for his birthday. We would send him encouraging words and nice pictures."

Malooly offered sympathy to Borders' family. He said that he felt fortunate to have known the spiritual leader.

"We are blessed," Malooly said, "because he was with us, led us, walked with us and listened to us."

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