A member of "The Greatest Generation," Rev. Msgr. Francis Braun, '51, shares a look back at his time at St. Bonaventure University and Christ the King Seminary.
by Susan Anderson
The Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, the Cold War — these are just a few of the events that made up the young adulthood of Msgr. Francis Braun and helped mold him into the man he is today: steady, loyal and strong in faith.
“My mother would say things can always get worse and sure enough, things got worse,” shares Braun with a smile.
Raised in Northeast Buffalo, he and his younger siblings (two sisters and three brothers) learned the value of community in a parish where people bartered for work, shared their goods, and did not waste food.
“You knew you would be able to weather something,” he says of the solid work ethic and strength of character instilled in him from an early age.
He knew by his senior year of high school that he wanted to join the priesthood, and in the fall of 1948 entered what would later become known as Christ the King Seminary, then located at St. Bonaventure University.
“We had a big class, about 38 applying for the seminary,” Braun recalls. “There were maybe 12 or 14 of us from Buffalo.”
He arrived on campus at a time when collegians, seminarians and soldiers all shared the same spaces: the GI Bill had profoundly changed the face of St. Bonaventure, and a new seminary (a building known today as Francis Hall) was being built to replace the one that had burnt to the ground.
“You were separated, and yet you were one,” he says of the mix that often made for some good fun as well as memorable moments.
“Anytime there was a senior or junior prom, the collegians would borrow your black shoes. In return, they’d let you borrow their newspaper and you’d hide it under your cassock.” These were the days of no television, radio or newspapers for the seminarians.
He remembers ball games at the Armory, Saturday night movies in Butler Gym, dinner at Piccoli’s, Manhattans at the L’Alcove.
And he remembers what it was like to live among those who had been POWs in Germany.
“We were in the gym for exams and one of the friars, Columba Murphy, wanted to make a correction on the exam for his German class. Columba walks up to the microphone and begins speaking in German and this guy panics. He’s startled. He knocks all his notes on the floor, puts his head on the desk, and sobs. Columba led him out of the gym; this huge guy with this little friar. That’s the kind of atmosphere it was, to have the veterans there.”
Three of Braun’s six years in seminary were spent living in Devereux Hall, a time he remembers with great fondness. “We had two to three in a room, and were part of the campus spirit. Dev was the main place. Friars lived on the first floor. Collegians lived on the second and third floors. Fourth was seminarians and fifth floor was the attic. The middle part of Dev was the rec room and a small theology hall. The other wing was a big theology hall,” Braun remembers.
“It was horrible when we were sent to Francis Hall. In the collegiate and academic setting, you were part of a beautiful thing. You had use of the gym and pool every Wednesday night. You were part of the crowd. You got to know the guys from the parish, the old neighborhood, who were collegians.”
But once in Francis Hall, the camaraderie with the collegians came to an end. The only time the seminarians were allowed out of Francis Hall was to go to the library during their 90 minutes of free time, he says. It was lights out at 9 p.m., up at 5 a.m. “You could still sneak around, though,” Braun says with a grin. “Each floor had a spy who kept an eye on things.”
Listening to him talk about the friars is like having a page of St. Bonaventure history come to life. “Tom Plassmann was a big man, tall, with big feet. They called him Snow Shoes,” he says. “Juvenal Lalor was Mr. Perfection. His habit was always perfect. Francis Duffy, the assistant athletic director to Silas Rooney, called the seminarians Black Crows. He’d yell, ‘Were you in my pool, Black Crows?’ And Calista, from Honey Notch, was just a brilliant guy.”
Overall he says he enjoyed his time at St. Bonaventure and Christ the King Seminary. “There was a friendly attitude among the friars and even the tough ones made an impression on you.”
Today Braun is pastor of St. Mark Parish in North Buffalo, a post he has held for nearly 30 years.
“He has an unshakable strength,” says parishioner Teresa Nash, noting the reassurance and guidance he offered her children in the hours and years following their father’s untimely death. “He is also a staunch supporter of our military men and women, taking the time to remember them in prayer, daily.”
Like the generation that shaped him and the friars who taught him, Msgr. Braun is leaving an impression on others, making a difference in the lives of many.