Long before Pope Francis convoked last year’s Jubilee Year of Mercy, Richard and Danelle Borgman recognized the transformative power of mercy. So influential was the concept to the husband and wife missionaries their ministry of preaching the Gospel’s message of mercy on a global scale is called “Eyes of Mercy, Inc.” Richard even dubs the couple “mercy-naries.”
Detailing their spiritual journey and vocation, however, is a challenge: mere words do not alone aptly convey their unique pilgrimage from Christian evangelicalism to the Roman Catholic Church. One would have to describe fascinating vignettes of memorizing the book of Romans while farming (460 verses in 16 chapters), raising their three children in East Africa while ministering at a local prison, or a mystical encounter with the crucified Christ, the Blessed Mother, and finally an embrace of the Catholic faith.
Richard, a former evangelical pastor, presented the Borgman testimony at Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s Speaker Series on March 9 in Newport Beach. As it happens, it is also the home of the parish’s new parochial vicar, Fr. Scott Borgman, J.C.D., Richard and Danelle’s son. Like his parents, Fr. Borgman himself is a convert to the faith.
To understand how God writes straight with crooked lines in the Holy Spirit’s working through the Borgmans, one must start in Colorado over 50 years ago, where Richard and Danelle met and were soon married. Having spoken openly in various forums over the years, including guests on EWTN’s “The Journey Home,” Richard and Danelle discussed their relationship with each other and its place in the context of the evangelical movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
Both experienced a profound encounter with Jesus, first finding their footing in a Christian missionary fellowship community in northern Colorado. In the years that followed, Richard, Danelle, and their three children lived mainly in a slum in the Ivory Coast of Africa. Here, Richard ministered as a chaplain in a prison of 4,500 inmates, and while committed to the Gospel message and sharing the Word of God in their missionary experiences, the Roman Catholic Church was not exactly in the purview of the Borgmans. However, there was another chaplain at the prison—a Catholic priest.
“I noticed the Catholic priest was doing what I was preaching. While I had a great message of the Gospel, he had a great life of the Gospel,” Richard attests. Richard admits having then fostered an anti-Catholic sentiment while freely acknowledging the lack of love felt in his heart. To debunk the claim of the 2,000-year-old church, he had composed a list of everything he believed to be untruthful about the Church of Rome, what he dubbed at the time “The Most Pernicious Cult in the World.”
But grace acted nevertheless. In the decades that followed, Richard would find each of those points refuted. What resulted was a slow path of discernment that would eventually lead home, to Rome. For the Borgmans, the path was laid before them in the Word they had so come to cherish. “I kept falling on the passage where Jesus says, ‘This is my body, this is my blood,” Richard remembers. “As we were feeding the sick, He was starting to feed us through understanding compassion.”
At this time, the Borgmans discovered two living witnesses who powerfully brought their faith to others in a deeply meaningful way—and today they are both saints: Pope Saint John Paul II and Saint Mother Teresa. In addition to the testament of these figures, Richard found the Catholic Church’s teaching of suffering to be so transformative a realization finally dawned on him. After years of fleeing from love in various forms, Richard was finally ready to embrace the redeeming love of God, the love of the Blessed Mother, and the love long expressed by those dear to him.
To the Borgmans, mercy suddenly became less a theological theory than a lived reality. The searchers had finally arrived home. They became Catholic. Their son, Scott, himself a searcher, would follow suit. By then, Richard and Danelle were ministering in France, and it is there Scott decided to enter the priesthood. Today, he is the new parochial vicar of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
“Behind every great priest,” Fr. Borgman’s friend, Dr. Christopher Kaczor, professor of philosophy at Loyola Marymount University, noted, “are great people who have nurtured the priest’s character. I’m grateful to Mr. and Mrs. Borgman for all they have done to make Fr. Borgman such an outstanding priest and person.”
For the last 10 years, Richard and Danelle have been traveling the globe, offering their Catholic message of mercy evangelization in dozens of countries. When not preaching and educating, the Borgmans share their testimony. Richard’s presentation style belies his 70 years; his energy in sharing his message eclipses even someone half his age.
Through the Sacred Heart they have found their life’s purpose, and the love of each other. They now pack their schedule, planning to share their message of mercy of others until it is time for the searchers to finally gaze upon the merciful face of the Father forever.