Archbishop William D. Borders dies, led Baltimore Catholics

Archbishop Borders
Archbishop Borders (Andr? F. Chung - Baltimore Sun)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Liz F. Kay and Erica L. Green
Friday, April 23, 2010

Former archbishop William D. Borders, 96, who applied leadership lessons learned as a decorated military chaplain while guiding Baltimore's Catholics for 15 years, died of colon cancer April 19 at a hospice in Timonium, Md.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore, which he guided from 1974 to 1989, covers central and Western Maryland.

Archbishop Borders led the Diocese of Orlando before arriving in Baltimore amid two crises: a police strike and the integration of schools.

He went on TV and "asked for peace."

"I had been here six months," he said, "and I recommended that some parents travel the school buses, and they did it. I didn't have any authority at all. I just made the recommendation."

"I didn't want any chaos on buses," Archbishop Borders said. "You don't know what kids are going to do when they're not accustomed to associating with each other."

Archbishop Borders organized the diocese into three vicariates and appointed his auxiliary bishops to lead them.

He also put in place the changes directed by the Second Vatican Council, such as establishing lay parish councils to guide pastors. Archbishop Borders also organized representatives from those councils into area councils, each leading up to the pastoral council. He advocated for leadership of women in the church.

After gay Catholics criticized his opposition to proposed gay rights legislation for Baltimore, Archbishop Borders was cheered when he established the archdiocese's ministry to homosexuals in 1981, according to news reports at the time.

The archbishop also hosted "Realities," a Sunday TV talk show, for 11 years. He invited guests to speak on a theme, such as integration or theology, and volunteers took questions from callers.

"We tried to answer all the questions that were relevant, and since there were always more questions than you could handle, you put the kook questions on the bottom," he said. "You'd address the controversial questions, though."

"Basically, I'm a realist. I deal with people hopefully as they are, not as I would want them to be," he said.

William Donald Borders was born Oct. 19, 1913, in Washington, Ind., and graduated from Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans.

He was ordained in 1940 and assigned to Sacred Heart parish in Baton Rouge. He became an Army chaplain during World War II and developed the management philosophy he followed while leading the Diocese of Orlando and the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

"In a drafted army, you had many competent people, but you had many incompetent people," he said. "I encountered people who were incompetent that caused deaths, and that affected my evaluation of anyone in authority.

"I judged their ability, not their rank," he said. "That affected my entire life when dealing with people."

During World War II, the chaplain achieved the rank of major for his service in North Africa and Italy. Later, he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal. "I picked up a soldier under fire and carried him to safety, running like nobody's business," he said. According to a 2005 news report, he anointed the soldier and moved on, never learning his name.

After he was discharged, then-Father Borders returned to the Diocese of New Orleans, where he founded a seminary high school in Baton Rouge.

In 1959, he became the chaplain at Louisiana State University, where he also taught philosophy and religion.

Archbishop Borders was affected by some of the recent disputes involving the Catholic Church. He was named in two lawsuits, one in Baltimore in 1993 and another in Orlando in 2003. In both cases, he was accused of knowing about alleged abuse by priests in his dioceses but avoiding action against them. The terms of the Baltimore settlement are confidential; the Orlando case was settled without the archbishop's admitting any wrongdoing.

Survivors include a sister and a brother.

-- Baltimore Sun

© 2010 The Washington Post Company