“It’s an odd career for a priest, because you usually think of somebody in a parish or in a monastery; you don’t think of a priest as someone who works out in the world,” said Brauninger, who earned his nursing degree in 2010. “It’s hard for some people to comprehend someone in the working world living out vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. It’s so counter-cultural. So it’s good for me to be able to explain it, that this life is possible and worth living.”
Despite the strong pull of ecclesiastical life, something else was pulling Brauninger even harder during his teenage and early adult years. At 14, he began training as a “junior fireman” for his local Volunteer Fire Department, eventually majoring in Fire Science Engineering at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) and working as a firefighter during his summer breaks.
Although convinced that firefighting would be his life’s work, Brauninger sensed a shift in his vocational direction as a college senior. His peers at EKU’s Catholic parish kept telling him what a great priest he would make.
“I kept getting this calling of, ‘Why don’t you try to be a priest?’” says Brauninger. “I found the Jesuits on the Internet and I immediately felt comfortable,” he said. “The Jesuits allow you to use your gifts and your talents, but they are also clear that they’re going to challenge you.”
In August 2005 he entered St. Charles College’s Jesuit Novitiate in Grand Coteau.
Brauninger then went on to study philosophy, theology, and earn his R.N. in an accelerated program at St. Louis University. After graduation, he moved to Denver, where he applied for – and attained – his “dream” ministry: working the graveyard shift in a Denver hospital’s emergency department.
“I find Christ easily in the sick and injured,” said Brauninger, recalling Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s observation of how Christ sometimes is found in “the disguised.”
Brauninger makes himself available to his coworkers when they ask for spiritual support and is also bolstered by The Examen, the twice-a-day regimen of Ignatian prayer in which the faithful express gratitude for the day’s gifts, ask the Holy Spirit for guidance, listen for Christ’s teachings and talk to Jesus.
“In the hospital we see people during a time of great distress, and that’s who Christ came to serve. That’s the Christ you see in the Gospel – he is always with the sick,” he said. “The ministry we strive to carry on is the healing ministry of Christ, and I feel that’s what I do in health care.”