It was borderline blasphemy – a man raised in an evangelical, charismatic Christian missionary family in Africa and being mentored at a Southern Baptist Church attending daily Masses at a Catholic convent. But that is how Fr. Scott Borgman’s Catholic journey began.
The man who now serves as judicial vicar of the Diocese of Orange was not sure what he might find when he first knocked on the door of the tiny Mississippi convent where he attended his first services. All he knew was it stirred something deep.
“I didn’t know when to stand up or what was going on at the altar,” Borgman said, “but every time I came out, I had a deep sense of peace.”
The tipping point, he said, was when “I fell head over heels in love with the Eucharist.”
In 2003, at the age of 32, Borgman was confirmed, so hungry for his communion that says he bit the priest’s finger.
He would be ordained in as a priest in 2010, finish his studies in canon law and eventually be “loaned” to Orange County in 2016 where he serves in the diocese Office of Canonical Services.
A winding road
The trip that landed Borgman in sunny Southern California and the priesthood was anything was but straightforward.
As a child, Borgman moved with his parents, Richard and Danelle Borgman, and two siblings to the Ivory Coast, or Cote D’Ivoire, to serve as missionaries from Mercy Farm of Colorado.
The family settled into a small group house on the outskirts of Abidjan.
“We lived with the poorest of the poor,” Borgman said. “There were 12 of us in the house. We had one meal a day.”
The children were home-schooled and Borgman said he learned of Christianity from services held on the front porch of the house, where his father “preached hellfire.”
Borgman said his father also counseled congregants, visited prisons and was devout.
“My Dad memorized portions of the Bible,” Borgman said. “He could recite the Book of Romans from memory. He’d bribe us with chocolate to memorize parts of the Bible.”
Every four years, the family would return to the United States and Orange County became their American base. When Borgman was old enough for college, he enrolled at Southern California College, an Assemblies of God school in Costa Mesa that is now Vanguard University.
However, despite all his father’s teachings, Borgman was drifting away from religion.
“I thought I had had enough religion,” Borgman said.
He became a key grip and working in the film industry. And yet he was adrift.
“After 10 years, I was looking for something,” Borgman said. “I was searching for significance.”
He would find it in the oddest of places.
Long distance calling
It started with a phone call from Dad. In 1999, Borgman’s parents, who had moved from Africa to France, announced that they had converted to Catholicism.
Although still involved in missionary work, like his youngest son, Richard Borgman had also been searching.
Through his missionary work, Richard Borgman had witnessed the love and kindness priests delivered, essentially practicing what the elder Borgman preached.
Scott Borgman remembers his parents, “taught us Catholics had strayed. Our goal was to convert as many Catholics as possible.”
Richard Borgman said he had compiled a list of 36 gradually dispelled reasons why he thought Catholics were wrong in their faith. The last domino in his rejection of Catholicism came when Richard Borgman had an experience with Jesus on the cross in which the Lord offered the motherly love of Mary to fill a void in his live.
Richard Borgman said that cut away the last roots that had bound his heart.
“She’s nitroglycerine,” he said of the effect of Mary on his heart.
Although stunned by his Dad’s announcement, Borgman said one thing he had never doubted was his father’s beliefs or sincerity.
So Borgman began searching for what his father had found, which led him to the convent.
On to Europe
After his experiences in Mississippi, Borgman joined his family in Toulon, France, where he completed his confirmation under the bishop who had helped his parents with their conversion.
Borgman said he started to read and study the faith.
As he started to contemplate the priesthood, “I thought, ‘Wow, what a great way to abandon yourself in God.’”
Borgman began a process of discernment to discover whether he was called to be a priest. Along the way, Borgman and a friend dressed in burlap robes and went on a pilgrimage of extreme poverty, relying only on God’s providence for food and shelter.
That led Borgman to Rome, years of poverty and study and eventually to the University of the Holy Cross.
While in school, Borgman would occasionally travel to Newport Beach, where his brother, Jim, and parents were stationed. Borgman would stay in a local rectory and said his bishop eventually suggested he return to the U.S. “for a couple of years.”
However, whether in Rome, the South of France or Garden Grove, some things don’t change.
“We take the same Eucharist that the disciples received,” Borgman said. “This is where we find the grace, the intimacy with Christ. This is where we get the fullness of the Catholic faith.”