By Deacon Mark Krejci, Ph.D. / Office of Formation in Discipleship
I wonder how many of us picked up this edition of OND and habitually looked for Father Don Braukmann’s “Life First” column. Readers of Father Don’s column know that he was diagnosed with ALS about 18 months ago and, for those who have not heard or have not read the obituary in this edition of OND, Father Don died July 17 in Bemidji. Even knowing of his death, I am sure many looked for the column because I have heard many times over the years, “The first thing I always read in the OND is Father Don’s column.”
In his last column, Father Don announced that he would be ending “Life First” in October, writing, “There are a lot of things on my mind as I consider these final four columns.” Thus, a common question since his death has been, “Did Father Don turn in the final columns, and will they still be published in the paper?” I am sorry to write that he did not work ahead on his columns and, speaking as someone who knew Father Don since we were both college students, I am not surprised. Father Don told me that he had the habit of writing the column the night before the deadline not so much because of procrastination (although that was part of it) but because he never knew when a last-minute event would occur that would inspire the column. What inspiring columns they were.
Father Don wrote “Life First” nearly every year he was a priest and his faith-filled, passionate defense of life from conception to natural death resonated across the Diocese of Crookston and beyond. His column gave us regular lessons on the Catholic Church’s respect for life. Sometimes the columns detailed the evil of abortion while others described the need to minister with mercy to those who had an abortion. Some columns shared affectionate stories of an elderly couple, widow or widower and the richness of faith they shared with the world, to be later followed by a lamentation on the increasing call for legalizing assisted suicide. Still others talked about the need to end capital punishment, commented on political movements and people, and described our call to help the poor, hungry, homeless, immigrant, and addicted. Father Don was a witness for the sanctity of all human life.
We do not have the promised final columns from Father Don, so now what are we to do? Deacon Jim Lukenbill, the homilist for Father Don’s funeral, knew Father Don would not want a homily in which he was “canonized a saint” because he “knew he was a sinner.” Keeping the spirit of Deacon Jim’s homily, this column is not meant to eulogize Father Don but instead is a call to action. Father Don’s voice will no longer be a prophetic witness to the dignity of human life and that is why it is now your turn. We who have been formed by Father Don on respect for human life are now called upon to be voices in the wilderness of the culture of death.
Think what could happen if everyone who read Father Don’s columns said a daily prayer for the protection of human life (Father Don did) and wrote one letter/email/text message to anyone about the respect for life (i.e. replace his monthly column with a monthly statement yourself). Don’t think, “What good would that do?,” because we know Father Don’s column changed hearts and saved lives. Who knows what you can accomplish with the help of God through the Holy Spirit?
OND’s editor is not looking to have someone continue “Life First”. The paper will of course carry all manner of stories about the sanctity of life but, with Father Don’s death, “Life First” will end. Let us use this time as an opportunity to use our own voices to champion life! There are many Catholics in the Diocese of Crookston who are beautifully engaged in the cause – some of them brought to the task by Father Don himself. Let us ask ourselves how we can all be prophets and champions for the respect for life from conception to natural death.
May Father Don and all the faithful departed rest in peace. May all of us who continue our earthly pilgrimage be stirred to action to evangelize the respect for all human life from conception to natural death.