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Archbishop William D. Borders, DD
Archbishop William D. Borders, DD

Conferral speech for the Distinguished Alumnus Award given at the 1994 Saint Meinrad Alumni Reunion


Presented August 9, 1994


It is not unusual for a bishop to be recognized and applauded. So, as I prepared this introduction for the third recipient of the Saint Meinrad Distinguished Alumnus Award, I asked myself, what truly distinguishes the life and work of Archbishop William Borders?


For this award is not given for title or position. Nor is it given for any form of early achievement. Rather, it is given for who someone is, more than what he has done. As defined, the award recognizes an individual’s service to Saint Meinrad and the Church and, more importantly, a person’s exemplification of Gospel values in his life and work.

In the work of seminary formation today, one of the challenges we face is convincing our students that we all must be forever open to learning and to growth through our experiences and the problems and opportunities God brings to our lives. I think the essence of Archbishop Borders is that he demonstrates in his life and work that he has grown and learned – from his God, from his parents, from his teachers, from his flock. He is a shining example of the type of collegiality that is so necessary in today’s Church. In his own words, "Collegiality used to be a concept foreign to the Church, but for me, it came from conviction and natural inclination. I’m convinced that no one person knows all the answers. In process, we learn so much.”

There have been a great number of learning experiences in the life of Archbishop Borders, and he has grown with each of them. He could have stayed in Indiana instead of transferring to New Orleans, but there he grew in his understanding of a broader and more diverse Church.

He didn’t need to volunteer to be an Army chaplain and narrowly miss being killed by a German sniper in Italy in 1944. But he learned to deal with the pain of seeing vibrant young men die in war. And he learned to listen. In his own words, "If only the army superiors had listened to their soldiers, some terrible mistakes could have been avoided!” Years later, he took that lesson he had learned and emblazoned it across his coat of arms: "Auscultabo Ut Serviam” – "I will listen that I may serve.”

As the chaplain of the Newman Center at Louisiana State University, he didn’t need to spend a summer with the Indians in Guatemala to better serve his Hispanic students. But he learned a special compassion for the poor and demonstrated that throughout his ministry. He later became what Baltimore Magazine called the "king of the soup kitchens.” During his term as Archbishop of Baltimore, The Catholic Charities budget grew from $2.5 million a year to $33 million, and its staff grew from 200 to more than 1,000. And he regularly visited the legislators and government administrators on behalf of the less fortunate.

When he was given his first pastorate in 1957, he didn’t need to end the segregation in that Louisiana church, when other churches in the South had separate pews for blacks and whites. But the compassion he had learned for the neglected and the marginzalized gave him the courage to do just that.

And after he became the thirteenth Archbishop of Baltimore, he didn’t have to pursue his course of championing the rights of the poor and of women. But he never overlooked his responsibility to lead – whether in school desegregation, or equal housing, or health care, or women in the Church. His great faith sustained him. Again, in his own words, "I believe if you are called to work in the Church, God’s Providence gives you the resources.”

Archbishop Borders grew up in Washington, Indiana, and attended Catholic grade and high schools there before entering Saint Meinrad in 1932. Without question, his family had a great influence on him. And they have had a wonderful influence on Saint Meinrad as well. His late brother, Chick Borders, and his nephew, Bill Borders, were very active on our Board of Overseers.

His ministry has been truly Catholic: associate pastor, army chaplain, campus minister, pastor, seminary rector, bishop and then archbishop. Through it all, he remained a man of God – a man always willing to listen to the people of God – a man of faith and courage who served God’s Church through difficult times, with both vision and compassion.

Today, with great pride and gratitude, the Saint Meinrad Alumni Association recognizes a member of its class of 1940 with its Distinguished Alumnus Award – Archbishop William Donald Borders.

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