Joanne and Charles Thomas of Reisterstown remembered Archbishop William Donald Borders as a priest for all people, a dear, humble friend — and an avid golfer.
"We're pretty sure he's playing golf with Payne Stewart right now," Joanne Thomas said moments after she and her husband passed by Border's coffin at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.
The Thomases joined scores of students, clergy and other Catholics who came to pay their respects Thursday as the Archdiocese of Baltimore began two days of events to remember Borders.
The archbishop, who led the archdiocese from 1974 to 1989, stayed in the area after retirement and remained a fixture at church celebrations, died Monday in Timonium at 96.
With two priests and two Knights of Columbus members standing watch, visitors filed quietly past the open casket, some pausing with recollections.
"He understood the role of bishop, that the bishop relates as a shepherd of the people," said Sister Rosalie Murphy, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur who knew Borders for 41 years. "He was a philosopher, basically, and he was able to deal with questions that never daunted him. That was key to his makeup in a way. He was able to bring people together and hear different points of view."
Bishop Denis J. Madden led a short service, reflecting on a church leader who once served as a chaplain for soldiers during World War II and later for students at Louisiana State University. Borders died one month shy of his 70th anniversary as an ordained priest.
"Archbishop Borders respected and loved all, he greatly respected sincerity of heart and a competence that rewards whole-hearted effort," Madden said. "Rank and position neither attracted him nor held much sway with him."
Before the service, Madden reflected on how Borders worked to map out solutions for many of the concerns the Catholic church faces.
"He had great insight," Madden said. "Many of the issues we are dealing with nowadays, with our schools and our diocese, he really had some good advice years ago about how we might best navigate through those things."
Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien said that the outpouring of praise and remembrances for Borders this week illustrates the effect he had on the area's Catholic community well after his retirement.
"It is very impressive," O'Brien said. "You never know what's going to happen [after retirement]. It's a good indication of a very rich life."
During World War II, Borders enlisted in the Army Chaplain Corps, holding the rank of major and earning a Bronze Star for carrying a wounded soldier to safety while under fire.
He was named the first bishop of the new Diocese of Orlando, Fla., in 1968. His arrival in Baltimore in 1974 was a move from the nation's youngest diocese to its oldest.
In Baltimore, he is remembered for overseeing the division of the archdiocese into vicariates.
Church officials say he recognized that parishes within the sprawling archdiocese, which stretches from the Chesapeake Bay to the West Virginia border, had many different needs. So he divided the diocese into districts to be presided over by vicar bishops — Madden, for example, is the urban vicar, serving Baltimore — a system that O'Brien said enables the church to deliver more personal care.
"We are much the richer for it today," O'Brien said. "Our bishop vicars have real responsibilities, and they are deeply involved in each parish. They are a tremendous help to a bishop like myself, coming into a community as an archbishop to a diocese this complicated.
"And that was his initiative. He was very humble about it, about everything he did, in fact."
People from all walks of life came from across the area to Thursday's public viewing, some by car, others by public transportation. Some said that the turnout was indicative of the kind of people who were inspired by Borders.
"He understood the working man and could go out on the golf course and play with a CEO," said Ronald J. Valenti, the superintendent of archdiocesan schools.
"You know, sometimes after a person passes, you sort of manufacture things," Valenti added, "but this is the truth: I never saw a time when he wasn't uplifting, always affirming, always wanted to know how you were, what you were doing. I feel blessed that I had the opportunity to know him."
Mass for the archbishop
9 a.m. to noon today:
Public visitation at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5200 N. Charles St., Baltimore
Mass of Christian burial at the cathedral
The archbishop's body will be entombed privately in the cathedral crypt immediately