Franciscan Sister Bornhoft brought Quest youth program to Denver
By Julie Filby
Sister Elizabeth Bornhoft
Sister Elizabeth Bornhoft, a sister of St. Francis of Assisi for 71 years, died July 17 in Batesville, Ark. She was 90.
More than 30 years of her ministry were spent serving the Archdiocese of Denver, much of that time working with youth. Long time friend, Third Order Franciscan Julia Von-Evig of Conifer, descr- ibed her as a “beautiful mirror of the Church.”
“Sister Liz was a wonderful reflection of the Church in her charity, humility and authenticity,” Von-Evig said. “She really lived a Franciscan lifestyle of poverty, simplicity and honesty.”
Sister Bornhoft was born Imelda Elizabeth on Nov. 12, 1921, to George and Catherine Bornhoft in the small town of Stoneham, on the northeastern plains of Colorado. She said from the age of 15 she knew she was going to be a “missionary for Jesus.”
During her senior year of high school, that call to religious life was realized following a visit from Franciscan sisters to the small town of Stoneham. She joined the order in 1941. When she received her habit in 1943 she took the name Sister Mary Nathaniel, then eventually returned to her middle name from baptism “Elizabeth.”
Sister Bornhoft received a bachelor’s degree in history, English and education from Cardinal Stritch College in Milwaukee, Wis., in 1955, and a master’s degree in education in 1970. She spent some 30 years, between 1943-1973, teaching middle school and high school students at several Catholic schools in Wisconsin.
During that time, she also returned to the northern plains of Colorado to teach at St. Anthony in Sterling and St. John the Baptist in Longmont.
In the mid-‘70s, Sister Elizabeth left the classroom to work in religious education, pastoral care and with youth groups in the dioceses of Colorado Springs and Pueblo before returning to the Archdiocese of Denver in the late ‘80s.
She was known for having a significant impact on youth in coordinating the Luke 18 and Quest programs.
Sister Bornhoft brought the Quest youth program weekend retreats to Denver after she experienced a Quest weekend while attending St. Louis University in the early 1980s. As of 2007, there had been 50 Quest weekends in the Denver Archdiocese, catechizing hundreds of teens.
“She had a great devotion to Quest; to the kids,” said Von-Evig who assisted her with the program for many years. “She was always the first one up in the morning and the last one to bed (at the retreats).”
Von-Evig attributed Sister Bornhoft’s ability to reach people, particularly those who were troubled, to her compassion and willingness to listen.
“She could connect with people who were having a hard time … she made them feel like they had a voice,” she said.
“She was very gentle, loving, Christ-like,” Von-Evig continued. “She celebrated every person she knew for their individuality … and made them feel special.”
In a journal entry, Sister Bornhoft expressed her gratitude for serving the Church as a Franciscan sister.
“I have been most blessed by giving my life to Jesus as a professed sister,” she wrote, “and have come to feel his presence in my very being, desiring everyone else to experience his love in their own way.”
She is survived by her sister, Cecelia Orosz, and several nieces and nephews. The congregation of the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi held a memorial Mass for Sister Bornhoft at the convent chapel in St. Francis, Wis. July 23. Following a funeral Mass in Arkansas, she was buried at the Orosz Family Tree Cemetery on family land in Highland, Ark.