March 24th, 2023 by Gary Osberg

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. His bib overalls were covered with saw dust. I stopped and introduced myself.  I asked him what he did on campus 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 the 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.”   

During the next few months, I visited Br. Willie in the woodshop many times. Once, I noticed a small wooden wagon filled with blocks. He made the blocks out of scraps of oak wood harvested from the Abbey forest. I always left him with one of my calling cards and reminded him of my order for a table and chair set.  One day the phone rang and it was Brother Willie.  My table and chair set was 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 old age made it necessary for Br. Wille 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.

At one time Brother Willie was the Monastery dairy herdsman, but he was best known for his role as the self-appointed night watchman on campus.  The pub in Sexton Commons is named after him and George Maurer wrote a song named “The Brother Willie Shuffle”.   

In 2005. my friend Dave Phipps drew a caricature of Brother Willie Shuffling, from which my granddaughter, Kaylin, has made a T shirt.  Kaylin was the 6 year old granddaughter who got the first table and chair set. The T shirts are available at the St. John’s Abbey Gift Shop in the Great Hall.  The Gift Shop is open Monday thru Saturday from 10 until 2 and Sunday from 11:30 until noon.  A picture is attached. 

“Success has nothing to do with what you gain for yourself.  Success is what you do for others.”  Brother Willie (William Jerome Borgerding, OSB)   1916-2009 

Comments are closed.