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Since 1732, the Redemptorists — a congregation of missionary priests and brothers — have followed in Jesus’ footsteps, preaching the Word and serving the poor and most abandoned.
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in memoriam
Thursday

Very Rev. Frank Browne: ’Reeled in’ by God

Redemptorist Father Francis Brown, known as a zealous "fisher of men," died unexpectedly of an apparent heart attack while fishing with a parishioner and the man’s grandson. The shock of the 66 year-old priest’s death on Thursday, June 18, reverberated through Sacred Heart Parish in New Smyrna Beach, FL, the Vice Province of Richmond, where he had readily agreed to serve because he was asked, and his home Province of Baltimore.

A wake service was held Monday evening and a Funeral Mass offered on Tuesday, June 23, at Sacred Heart Church, where Father Browne had been pastor. A Funeral Mass, followed by burial in the Redemptorist cemetery is scheduled for Saturday, June 27, at 10:30 a.m. at Mount St. Alphonsus in Esopus, NY.

Born in nearby Kingston, NY, on July 17, 1942, Father Browne was the fourth of five children of Edward and Anne Gelshenen Browne and grew up in St. Joseph Parish. He was accepted by the Redemptorists to study at St. Mary’s Seminary in North East, PA, and made his novitiate in Ilchester, MD. He made his first profession of vows in 1962 and his final profession four years later. After completing his studies for the priesthood at Mount St. Alphonsus, he was ordained there on June 23, 1968.

Father Browne spent his first years as a priest ministering at St. Cecilia Church in East Harlem, an area widely referred to as "El Barrio." With an outgoing personality and a playful wit, the young priest reached out not only to parishioners, but to the whole community. Looking back on that period of his life, he said recently: "It was very busy, but wonderful at the same time." Assigned to Holy Redeemer Church in Manhattan’s East Village in 1976, he continued to reach out not only to English-speaking, but also Spanish-speaking people in the area. His sister, Kathleen (Kam) Browne Doetzer, said that "from the beginning, he wanted to be a missionary."

The Redemptorists had other plans for Father Browne in 1978, wanting him to serve as prefect of students in Suffield, CT, at their major seminary which replaced the one in Esopus.

He returned to pastoral work in 1984, serving two three-year terms as pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Church/ St. John Neumann Shrine in Philadelphia. There, he was responsible for, among other things, renovating the church crypt, where the body of the saint is displayed in a glass case which forms the base of the altar. In 1990, Father Browne was named pastor of the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Brooklyn, where he again served two three-year terms. The parish already had established English-speaking and Spanish-speaking congregants and Father Browne noticed that a growing number of Cantonese-speaking immigrants were moving to the neighborhood. His sister said he told her that Cantonese would have to be the next language he learned, but his time in Brooklyn was too short for such mastery. This assignment was followed by six years as pastor of St. Patrick Church in Enfield, CT. Still not content to wait for people to come to him in church, Father Browne went out in search of those who needed spiritual care.

Among those he found were a large group of seasonal Mexican migrants who worked the nearby tobacco fields. After getting to know some of the group, he decided he needed to earn a professional driver’s license to transport the men from the camp where they were housed to the church in town, for a weekly Mass in Spanish, followed by a hearty meal prepared and served by Spanish-speaking parishioners.

After 18 years of administrative responsibilities along with parish and outreach work, Father Browne was granted a sabbatical in 2002.

The following year, when the Vice-Province of Richmond faced a shortage of manpower and needed a priest with enough energy and vigor to take care of a large parish, a school, and a growing mission church, Father Browne volunteered to go to Sacred Heart Church in New Symrna Beach.

Father Karl Aschmann said that the news of Father Browne’s sudden death "shook all of us." Father Aschmann, who lives at San Alfonso Villa, also in New Smyrna Beach, said that his younger confrere "had a feel for the people. He knew everybody, not just in his own parish, but in the diocese, he was up on what was happening. The people here are devastated." He added that Father Browne was a "joyful man, never a sorrowful face, a confrere you’d like to be like."

Father Francis Nelson, who serves at Sacred Heart, noted that the rector "was very protective and very caring of the older guys in the house. He worried about them and would never put extra pressure on them. He made this a very well-melded community." Appreciating a bit verbal give-and-take, Father Browne took a lot of teasing about his fishing, said Father Nelson, who challenged his confrere to bring him back "a sirloin-flavored fish." Even on his weekly "day off," when he would enjoy a few hours of fishing, Father Browne "was always with someone from the parish, always ministering, doing all in a priestly manner," Father Nelson said. Mrs. Doetzer noted that her brother "was never happier than when he caught enough fish to feed everyone."

According to Father Eugene Grohe, a fellow outdoorsman, he and Father Browne spent eight or nine summer vacations hiking in the mountains and the two also used to ski together. "He was a very talented man and when he was at Esopus he was part of a group that called themselves ’The Collar Men.’ He had really good voice. He told wonderful stories and had a great wit." He was a wonderful preacher and also had "a great rapport with kids," Father Grohe added.

Father Browne’s standing among his confreres was expressed in his being elected to three terms on the Baltimore Province’s Extraordinary Provincial Council. Richmond Vice-Provincial Father Jerome Chavarria said that Father Browne could have been elected twice to be Vice-Provincial, but would not accept nomination. "He was a great animator of our community; he’d light up a room when he’d come in," he added. "Frank was truly a missionary. His bag was always packed for the Lord."

A 16-year-old student and altar server from Sacred Heart Parish also saw beyond the jokes and mimicry and songs and sports to the essence of Father Browne. He expressed this in a poem when he heard of his pastor’s death. In a nine-stanza tribute, L.J. Whalen spoke of God as the Fisherman and wrote:

"God knew that he was happy, God knew that he was loved, God knew it was his time For him to come above….

"God gave the man a pair of wings, And his very first halo to match. And after the man told his first lame heavenly joke, God said … "My Greatest Catch!"

 

Very Rev. Francis Browne C.Ss.R.

  • Born: July 17, 1942
  • Professed: January 1, 1962
  • Ordained: June 23, 1968
  • Died: June 18, 2009

 

Services

Wake Service
Monday, June 22
7:00 p.m.
Sacred Heart Church
New Smyrna Beach, FL

Funeral Mass
Tuesday, June 23
11:00 a.m.
Sacred Heart Church
New Smyrna Beach, FL

Funeral Mass and Burial
Saturday, June 27
10:30 a.m.
Mount Saint Alphonsus Retreat Center
Esopus, NY