The Rev. Dr. Robert E. Bornemann, professor of Hebrew and Old Testament for 41 years at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP), and director of the seminary choir from 1955 to 1990, died Sunday, May 3, 2009, of lung cancer at his home in Philadelphia’s East Mount Airy section. He was 85.
“I think of Bob Bornemann as a true renaissance man because he had so many varied interests,” says the Rev. Dr. Jack White, Hagan Emeritus Professor of Pastoral Care at LTSP who taught with Dr. Bornemann for 30 years. “No one on the faculty had a better rapport with students than Bob did. He especially loved the languages of antiquity and music. When I saw him in the hospital last week and we talked about the severity of his illness, I said to him, ‘But you still have your music,’ and his eyes just lit up.”
"As a young instructor at the seminary, I was invited by Dr. Bornemann to sit in on his beloved course, 'The Church, Music and the Arts'," recalls LTSP President Philip D. W. Krey. "It was among the finest courses I have ever taken. He was a masterful teacher."
LTSP alumnus Steve Jensen, Commander, Chaplain Corps, US Navy (Ret), recalls Dr. Bornemann as teacher and friend. “As a seminarian who needed to work full-time to pay for school, I was overwhelmed with the study load and desire to do my best. The faculty was intimidating and I was not sure to whom I could turn with spiritual, vocational, and life issues. This was during the Vietnam War and few understood or supported my desire to minister to military personnel and their families. ‘Dr. B’ was never too busy to talk and became my mentor and friend."
“We shared a love of music, but also a sense of humor not all would appreciate,” Cmdr. Jensen continues. “While our performances in churches, Lincoln Center, and elsewhere were often tension-filled serious affairs, one of us choir members would frequently break the stress by placing something on his music stand and wait for the giggle. He knew it was out of love and appreciation for him - and we sang our hearts out to honor his efforts on our behalf.”
Dr. Bornemann was a remarkably gifted musician who played the piano, recorder, organ and harpsichord. He built two harpsichords from kits and composed many songs and liturgical settings. His family reminisced this week about many informal musical performances in their home. While directing the seminary choir, he was known for staging performing editions of little-known or unknown dramatic musical works from the thirteenth century, and organized the seminary’s currently popular Advent Vespers series.
In 1974 he was appointed director of the CLCA Heritage Choir, organized for the 1976 Bicentennial. Dr. White recalls that for many years “Bob was in charge of the supernumeraries for the Philadelphia Opera Company. He would recruit non-singing performers, including many seminarians, for such operatic roles and was familiar in many music circles.” At one time he was a frequent lecturer for a Philadelphia Orchestra series entitled “Today’s Concert.” His record collection was legendary.
Though Dr. Bornemann officially retired from his post as the Anna Burkhalter Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew in 1994, his wife of 63 years, Agnes, said this week “Bob never really retired.” He occasionally taught Old Testament courses at the seminary, and was planning a course to be taught this year in the Graduate Religious Studies Program at La Salle University, where he had served as a visiting professor since 1977.
He participated in several noteworthy archeological digs in Israel over a 25-year period, the most recent one about 10 years ago in 106-degree temperatures when he was in his seventies. “The emphasis on archeology is not to prove that the Bible is either right or wrong,” he told the seminary’s PS Magazine upon returning from his last Middle East digging experience. “It’s a study that makes Scripture come alive. It is the realization that God acts in the lives of ordinary, real people. Archeology shows us the dynamics of how and the way people lived.” Dr. Bornemann noted the Scriptures don’t present history “in the usual linear sense. The Bible is a theological history that records how people experienced God within their lives.” Study of the Bible, archeology and geography “make it clear that not everyone connected with Israel had the same experiences,” he said. Dr. Bornemann called the land where the Bible unfolded a “sometimes barren land that can be unpleasant. But it gets hold of you. Many scholars and archeologists think of the Holy Land as a kind of fifth gospel.” He was active in a variety of Jewish-Christian dialogues.
An avid badminton and handball player, both Dr. White and family members describe Bornemann as having been “fiercely competitive.” Agnes Bornemann said his highly competitive winning attitude played out even in board games. The family loved tent-camping and hiking experiences in northern New Hampshire, and Dr. Bornemann climbed Mount Washington and the Presidential range frequently.
Born and raised in Willoughby, OH, near Cleveland, Dr. Bornemann earned his BA degree in literature and philosophy from Wittenberg University in Springfield, OH, in 1945. He was awarded his MDiv degree from LTSP in 1946 and a Master of Sacred Theology degree from LTSP in 1948, with a concentration in New Testament. He pursued graduate studies at Princeton Theological Seminary from 1948 to 1950 in New Testament and biblical theology while serving as a parish pastor in a stated supply position at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Hightstown, NJ. Before beginning his teaching career at LTSP, he served as parish pastor at Atonement Lutheran Church in Asbury Park, NJ, (1950-53) during a period when the congregation built a new church. He was called to the seminary in 1953 and was appointed Burkhalter Chair in 1970, the year he earned his PhD in Hebrew Bible from Dropsie College. His special PhD interest was in Canaanite and Hebrew Poetry. Among his publications was A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (1998).
Dr. Bornemann married Agnes (Grant) Bornemann in 1946, the year he was ordained a Lutheran pastor in the United Lutheran Church in America, a predecessor body of the current Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He and his wife are members of Trinity Lutheran Church in Germantown, where he served on the music and worship committee.
In addition to his spouse, Dr. Bornemann is survived by a son, John and and wife Collette Bornemann of Hyde Park, VT; and three daughters, Annamary, wife of Tom Anderson, of Craftsbury, VT; Elizabeth, wife of Stanley Kozakowski of Milford, NJ, and Kate, wife of Alan Ayers of Seattle, WA; eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild. added 5/6: He is also survived by a sister, Ruth and her husband Francis Hemry, who live in Willoughby, Ohio, and their children Susan Hemry of Lyndhurst, Ohio, and Tim and his family, of Novelty, Ohio.
The funeral service is planned for 1:30 pm Thursday, May 7, at Trinity Lutheran Church, Germantown Avenue and Queen Lane, Philadelphia. Memorial gifts may be made to the Robert Bornemann Fund at LTSP, 7301 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19119 or online at Ltsp.edu/give.
Publication quality versions of the images used here can be accessed by clicking on the appropriate image. From top: The Rev. Dr. Robert Bornemann, Dr. Bornemann with the LTSP Choir in the Schaeffer-Ashmead Chapel in an undated photo; Dr. Bornemann following the score in a recording session; Dr. Bornemann while in Israel on an archeological dig.
added 5/6/09: The Philadelphia Daily News has an obituary in today's issue: http://www.philly.com/philly/obituaries/20090506_Bob_Bornemann__85___a_true_renaissance_man_.html
added 5/7/09: The Philadelphia Inquirer has an obituary in today's issue: http://www.philly.com/philly/obituaries/20090507_Robert_E__Bornemann__85__scholar.html