With anti-clerical, anti-Catholic laws in force in Mexico, the priests and faithful were suffering persecution and martyrdom. From New Mexico, Fr. Braun and another intrepid Franciscan volunteered on three trips to assist their Franciscan brethren across the border. They would disguise themselves as businessmen to buy Franciscan property and save it from confiscation.
St. Joseph’s Apache Mission was at last completed (except for the windows, which the community couldn’t afford and which would be added later) in 1939 and dedicated on the Fourth of July.
That year, another world war broke out. At this point, you can probably guess what Fr. Braun did next.
He reported for duty as an Army chaplain in the Philippines in November of 1940. He served the soldiers of the New Mexico National Guard during the infamous Battle of Bataan in early 1942 and, along with them, was taken prisoner by the Japanese.
During the time of his imprisonment, he suffered torture, multiple diseases, and starvation, but none of that stopped him from caring for the sick and dying, burying the dead, and celebrating Mass in secret before convincing the Japanese to allow services. He gave up his own rations and craftily stole food for the starving prisoners—becoming so adept at it that he was nicknamed “Al Capone.”
He gave the prisoners solace and strength even when they were loaded onto the infamous “hell ships” which the Japanese utilized to ship the prisoners north and prevent their liberation.
Three and a half years of imprisonment elapsed before Fr. Braun and the surviving prisoners were freed in August of 1945. Only a little over half of the New Mexicans who served in Bataan made it home.
After the war, Fr. Braun returned to St. Joseph’s and rededicated the church to the veterans of both World Wars. For his actions in the war, he received a second Silver Star and the Legion of Merit.
But as much as he loved St. Joseph’s Mission, Fr. Braun’s health—deeply impacted by his years as a POW—required him to take less strenuous posts. His final mission would be to the “Golden Gate Barrio,” an impoverished Hispanic community in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1949. There, despite his injuries, he served his parishioners with vigor, building up a vibrant parish community. Among the projects he spearheaded was a new church, Sacred Heart, which was dedicated in 1956 and still stands today.
Fr. Braun spent the evening of his long life in the care of the Little Sisters of the Poor. Despite the amputation of one leg and confinement to a wheelchair, he kept his indomitable spirit, celebrating Mass for the nuns and other residents up until five days before his death.
He passed from this world on March 6th, 1983. His body was returned to his beloved Mescalero and buried at St. Joseph’s Mission, as he had wished.
And this, at last, is the end of Fr. Braun’s story—quickly summarized.
What a saga. What a life lived to the absolute fullest for Christ.
It’s certainly a life that illustrates God’s words in the book of Joshua: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Take this inspiration on your next journey with our Strong and Courageous Journal, featuring a rustic, leather-like cover and the words from Joshua debossed on the back. The perfect place to chronicle your days, plan your adventures, or jot down favorite quotes. A great gift for Confirmation! Available today at The Catholic Company!