Thursday, October 09, 2008

In Charm City, "Ironman" Hits 95

In advance of his 95th birthday today, earlier this week the old auditorium at 320 Cathedral -- Baltimore's Catholic Center -- was named for the Premier See's 13th head, Archbishop William Donald Borders.

An Army chaplain who narrowly escaped a sniper's bullet in World War II and won the Bronze Star for Valor, the Indiana-born Borders was first enrolled at St Meinrad, but transferred to the archdiocese of New Orleans in 1936 after Archbishop Joseph Rummel put out an appeal for priests. Ordained for the Crescent City in 1940, he served as a college chaplain, cathedral and seminary rector before being named the founding bishop of Orlando in 1968.

Six years later, from relative obscurity, Borders was promoted to the nation's oldest diocese in succession to Cardinal Lawrence Shehan. Both out of deference to his predecessor and in keeping with his own spartan ways, the 12th successor of John Carroll opted not to occupy American Catholicism's answer to the White House -- the stately manor at 408 N. Charles, behind the Basilica of the Assumption -- but the small, weathered Sexton's Lodge just outside the first cathedral's front door.

Even with its narrow doorways and an almost painfully steep staircase, the archbishop remained there until 2004 when, at 91, he cleared out to the nearby retirement residence at Mercy Ridge and the 1860s-era Lodge was restored and converted into the Basilica's gift shop.

Standing next to his predecessor's predecessor as he cut not one, but two cakes, Archbishop Edwin O'Brien referred to Borders at Tuesday's ceremony as "the Ironman" -- a title the Charm City folk usually reserve for Cal Ripken. (In a jocular slip on another occasion, the 14th archbishop Cardinal William Keeler once aroused gasps and howls on referring to his predecessor as "William Donald Shaefer" -- Maryland's Democratic former governor.)

Revered among the fold, Borders still heads into his office at the chancery every week, celebrates public Masses around the archdiocese and serves as de facto chaplain at Mercy Ridge, where the prolific pastoral-writer still prepares his own homilies. As if that wasn't enough, attendees at archdiocesan events will sometimes find the archbishop milling around, acting as a one-man welcoming committee and making sure everyone's comfortable.

In other words, all "retirement ministry" means is leaving the pressure and paperwork behind... and getting to enjoy what it's all about.

Happy Birthday to the Trooper.

PHOTOS: Archdiocese of Baltimore