Diocese of Tyler

CET: Fathers and Sons – An Interview with Terry and Fr. Justin Braun

Terry Braun, father of Tyler priest Father Justin Braun, converted to Catholicism on Christmas Day, 2016. We interviewed them at their home parish, St. Mary’s in Longview, a few days before Terry was to be received into the Church. We asked about conversion, what it’s like to have a priest as a son, and to have a dad about to become Catholic.  (This story appeared in the January 2017 edition of the Catholic East Texas magazine.)

Terry Braun: I was raised in central Texas in the country outside of Waco. We went to a little Baptist Church. I went to vacation Bible school and did all the typical things. We went to church every Sunday and Wednesday, and I went to Sunday school. I was baptized when I was 9 years old. Along the way, my family changed churches to a different Baptist community because of disagreements, then later to yet another one. Of course, as a child, I didn’t understand precisely what happened.

I graduated high school in 1966, and left home in ‘68. When I left, I pretty much left the Baptist Church behind. It didn’t inspire me. I can’t pinpoint any one thing, but I think I was most influenced by what I saw as hypocrisy in religion. The moral rules in the Baptist culture I was raised in were very strict, with absolute prohibitions on dancing, and drinking—but I saw that people did them anyway. They’d slip back into church through the side door the next day, and endure a chastisement in the sermon, but something was missing. I knew that these were, basically, good people, but something was wrong in the way sin was dealt with.

How did you discover Catholicism?

Terry Braun: Well, I met Helen, my wife. I had finished technical school and my mother and I went out to visit relatives in California. I ended up at her birthday party and met her there. I was smitten, I guess you could say, and I start writing to her. We corresponded regularly until I was drafted in May of 1969 and ended up in the Marine Corps. It’s tough to write a letter at boot camp, you just don’t have any time to yourself. After boot camp, I started to have a little free time, and luckily I was stationed at Camp Pendleton in California, just 90 miles away from her. I’d take a bus and stay with relatives to see her.

The Vietnam War was winding down and so I was stationed in Barstow, California. I was in the Marine Corps until April of 1971, and Helen and I were married two weeks later. Now, Helen was a devout Catholic from a Catholic family, and so we were married in the Catholic Church. Although I wasn’t very concerned about religion in my own life, I made a promise to help her raise our children as Catholics, and I took that promise very seriously.

Were you thinking about converting at that time?

Terry Braun: In my own mind, at the time, it was “Church is Church.” I wasn’t thinking about becoming Catholic, but I gradually came to realize that Catholicism is different. I knew my wife was going to Confession regularly, and although I didn’t understand the details, it struck me that this forgiveness was different than chastisement.

The next years of my life, I worked a lot of Sundays at the steel mill in Longview, so I didn’t go to church with the family often. When I did have Sunday off, I went to Mass and also to parish events. I think a lot of people thought I was Catholic. I didn’t go to Communion, though. Not for 45 years.

Father Justin Braun: As a kid, I knew my dad wasn’t Catholic like me and my mom, but I never felt like my dad was on a different team. He did his part. He got us out of bed for Mass and supported my mother completely in this. I had this recurring thought, though—I really wanted my dad to go to Communion.

Why not go to Communion?

Terry Braun: Well, those were the facts. That was the rule, it was what the Catholic Church taught, and I respected that.

Father Justin Braun: My dad taught me about respect. Whenever he came into the Catholic Church building, he always showed respect. He always genuflected to the tabernacle, he would sing with everyone; he participated at Mass. He taught me respect for the Holy Eucharist even though he never received it.

Terry Braun: Oh, I was mostly clueless about the doctrines of the Faith, but I was raised in a culture of respect. Respect for God was instilled in me, and so I wanted to be respectful in His Church.

Then your son told you he wanted to be a priest.

Terry Braun: Yeah, that was a shock. I had a hard time with that.

Father Justin Braun: Yeah, I definitely told my mom first! When I finally told my dad, I could tell he was disappointed. I know he wanted me to carry on the family name and bloodline. Neither of my parents said, “no,” but they obviously had misgivings.

Terry Braun: Looking back, I shouldn’t have been so surprised. I remember when I was driving him to JV baseball practice one time. It was Holy Thursday. After the drills were over, Justin asked to be excused to go Church, to serve Mass. The coach said to him, “you need to get your priorities straight!” Well, Justin walked off the team, right at that moment. A teenager willing to do that, to give up a sport he loved, I knew he was committed to God.

Father Justin Braun: It all started right here, for me, in the adoration chapel at St. Mary’s. My mom got me to go to Eucharistic adoration with her. She didn’t make me pray or do anything in particular, but she did want me to go. In rebellion, I sat in the back and blasted Metallica through my headphones, but eventually Jesus started to work on me. I developed a love for the Eucharist.

Terry Braun: So, even though I was uneasy, I supported him. I drove him up to Philadelphia to St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. That was a culture shock. Although I had spent all that time on the west coast, I hadn’t been any farther east that probably Shreveport. Philadelphia was foreign territory. When I saw that tiny room he’d be living in—you couldn’t even stretch your arms out; it was so small—I was troubled. Also, being Texans, we tend to be a little more friendly than folks from up there, you know?

Father Justin Braun: We were a couple of East Texas boys, and that was our first experience with people from the North! I’m sort of surprised we didn’t just turn around and run back home.

Terry Braun: I remember driving away, and looking in the rear view mirror and seeing him, and I knew we were both wondering, “Is it going to be ok?” It was tough to leave my son. I knew we were both sacrificing.

But, it worked out. It turned out that he made a lot of good friends. It was better than either of us thought.

As he went through his formation, as he grew in his knowledge, I listened to him. When he was home, that was what he talked about. The faith started to get closer and closer to my heart. It was working on me. Once he was ordained, it became really clear to me that I was missing something. Seeing the Eucharist through his eyes, it has changed me.

How did you feel when he was ordained?

Terry Braun: Intensely proud of him. Calling him “Father” for the first time was one of the proudest moments of my life.

Father Justin Braun: My dad’s conversion is the greatest gift God has given to me since my ordination. My dad is going to have the sacraments. There’s nothing more wonderful.

Terry Braun: I’ve been going to Eucharistic adoration with my wife, and there’s a little library in the chapel. I picked things up, read them, and my understanding has increased greatly.   

How can Catholics help people like yourself who are in our midst, but aren’t Catholic?

Terry Braun: Be genuine. Never be ashamed about your Catholicism, but practice it honestly. Don’t be a hypocrite. Do what you say, and be honest about it. Be honorable.

We live in a place where most of the people, while they may not know all the details of theology, are Christians, and they want to do what’s right. Sure, things have changed a lot in the last 40 or 50 years, and it’s unreal to me the virtues the world has lost, but we retain a culture of respect in East Texas. That helped prepare me for Catholicism, and it has prepared other people. I was taught to do what’s right.

Father Justin Braun:  And, if you do what’s right, and stick with it, you’ll eventually run into the Catholic Church.

Terry Braun:  Exactly.

On Christmas Day, 2016, Father Justin Braun received his father, Terry Braun, into the Catholic Church. Terry received Confirmation and first Communion from his son. The entire extended Braun family was in attendance at St. Mary’s Church in Longview, for the event.