April 19th, 2024 by Gary Osberg

Fifteen years ago we buried Brother Willie in the St. John’s cemetery.  In June of 2008 we celebrated his 92nd birthday in his room in the retirement center on the second floor of the Quad.  I brought him a choice of a cold bottle of O’Doul’s or a cold bottle of Budweiser.  He chose the Budweiser. 

It was in 2001 that I first noticed an old man kind of shuffling towards Wimmer Hall where the studio of Minnesota Public Radio is located. I stopped and introduced myself.  I asked him what he did, and he responded in a gruff voice, “My name is Brother Willie and I work in the woodshop.  I make a table and chair set, haven’t you seen them?  They are for little ones.”   Since I had a six-year-old granddaughter at the time, I asked him if he would make a set for me.  “Oh, I don’t know, there are many orders ahead of yours, I don’t know if I will live long enough to make a set for you.”   I responded,  “No problem, I will pray for you every day and I am sure that you will live long enough to make them.”   

I visited Br. Willie in the woodshop many times. The first time I noticed a small wooden wagon filled with blocks. He made the blocks out of scraps of oak wood.  Most likely the oak had been harvested from the Abbey forest.

I always left him one of my calling cards and reminded him of my order for the table and chairs.  One day the phone rang, and it was Brother Willie.  My table and chair set were finished. Over the years I took delivery on two children’s table and chair sets plus 8 of the small wagons filled with blocks of many shapes and sizes.  Years later Br. Willie had to stop working in the woodshop, but he still would make his rounds going thru the garbage searching for aluminum cans.  He donated the money from the cans to the poor.

Brother Willie was best known for his role as night watchman on campus.  The pub in Sexton Commons is named after him and George Maurer wrote a song named “The Brother Willie Shuffle”.  He was a great man, and he is missed.  My friend Dave Phipps drew the caricature attached and you can purchase a T-shirt with the same at the St. John’s Abbey Gift Shop in the Great Hall on campus.

“Success has nothing to do with what you gain for yourself.  Success is what you do for others.”  Brother Willie (William Jerome Borgerding, OSB)

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