BEMIDJI -- For those who knew him, the Rev. Donald Braukmann will be remembered for the joy he found in the ability to be a spiritual presence for people in and out of his parish.
“He saw a need and he took care of it,” said former St. Philip's Catholic Church pianist Deb McGregor.
Braukmann, a former longtime priest at St. Philip's Catholic Church in Bemidji, passed away at age 58 on July 17 after a battle with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). Visitation and prayer services were held Sunday, July 21, followed by a funeral mass and Christian burial on Monday, July 22.
McGregor said it is not Braukmann's death, but his love for people and his wanting to help those in need and passion for religion that will keep his legacy alive for years to come.
McGregor said Braukmann was always available for people in need, whether it be to listen, to be a friend or to provide a bit of unexpected support. He frequently paid overdue fees for people, provided families with groceries in their time of need and helped people get back on their feet when they needed the help the most, often doing so anonymously, McGregor said.
"He was a good man that everyone could connect with -- and that is why he was so beloved," said Robb Naylor, a deacon with St. Philip's. Braukmann served at St. Philip's from 2011 to 2018.
Braukmann's ability to be there for other people went far beyond just providing what they needed at the moment. McGregor remembers the impact Braukmann had on her and her family, especially her 17-year-old son, Ryan. Her son received a handwritten letter from him after a band performance at his high school and still cherishes the letter to this day.
“He would make every single person feel like they were the only person in that moment,” McGregor said. "My son came to me and said, “This (the letter) means more to me than you’ll ever know.””
Braukmann was a frequent guest on McGregor’s radio show on Your Q FM, and she said he fit her show’s message to always spread joy. McGregor said Braukmann would bring songs that spoke to him during his battle with his disease in hopes to bring inspiration to others.
“He was a spiritual mentor and a friend -- what I hope to carry forward is his legacy," McGregor said. “To also remember that every single action that we have has an impact on someone and we get to choose whether or not that impact is positive or negative.”
He continued to spread his faith throughout his battle with ALS. He wrote frequent columns for Our Northland Diocese, the official newsletter for the Crookston Diocese. He continued to update friends, family and church members during his illness through a CaringBridge website.
Along with his service to St. Philip's in Bemidji, Braukmann also spent time with other area churches, including St. Joseph’s Church in Moorhead, St. Lawrence in Felton, St. Mary’s in Warroad, St. Edwards in Karlstad and Sacred Heart Church of Baudette.