By Stephanie Haeg – [email protected]
CSB and SJU have been home to many people, both great and unknown. The rosters of alumni include Senators, White House Chiefs of Staff, farmers and everything in between.
But when we glance around campus and see the names attached to all these buildings, something inparticular might catch our eyes.
One such story that caught my own attention recently was Brother Willie’s Pub in Sexton Commons. The Pub’s a familiar part of SJU life, hosting regular events such as the SJU Senate meetings, Politics and a Pint, Theology on Tap and many others.
Many buildings on campus are named for alumni or people of national recognition, like the Eugene McCarthy Center or the Humphrey Auditorium. Others are named for Abbots, like the Alcuin Library, or donors, like the Gorecki Dining Hall.
But Brother Willie’s Pub has a slightly different story behind it. Brother Willie Borgerding, the Pub’s namesake, is a local figure, but one who played an intimate part of SJU’s history for many years, despite never being an Abbot or president—at least, not officially.
An alumnus of the St. John’s Prepatory School, Brother Willie was born in 1916. After joining the Monastery and taking his vows in 1940, Brother Willie raised cows and was the monastery’s herdsman. [Yes, SJU had cows on campus for many years, as well as other animals, but that’s a story for another time.] But when hard times in the 1960s meant there were no more cows, Brother Willie returned to campus and took up a role that would endear him to generations of students—the Night Abbot.
Brother Willie served as the night time security officer at SJU for years, wandering around campus in a plaid shirt and overalls, with a badge on his chest. Students in interviews in The Record’s archives fondly recall him coming up at night to talk to them, dispensing his advice and wisdom. He was to Bennies and Johnnie’s alike a familiar figure, warm and beloved.
The Record headlines from interviews and articles about him in the 1980s and 1990s describe him as “SJU’s Night Owl” and “an SJU institution”, and he was well known with his nickname “The Night Abbot”.
When he started working, he was the lone figure of SJU’s security, which he patrolled on foot. As the college expanded and the years went on, he continued to assist the expanded security team, wandering the halls at night with a flashlight and making sure Bennies didn’t linger after curfew. Even after his retirement, Brother Willie wandered campus unofficially, still sharing advice with students, playing music in the chapel and doing carpentry as a hobby.
Brother Willie passed away in 2009, but his name and memory lives on in the pub that bears his name, even if the students who gather there no longer know the story of the Night Abbot.