May 21, 2007

New chaplain at St. Mary's Care Center in Winsted

Not only does he perform the wedding ceremony, but he has been known to take wedding pictures, too

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

Fr. Eugene Brown carries a 16.7 megapixel digital camera, and he knows how to use it.

He has already taken numerous pictures of Winsted’s St. Mary’s Care Center residents since he became chaplain there April 13.

Brown has been a priest of the Diocese of New Ulm for 47 years. When Brown was only 13 years old, he left his home in Montevideo to enter the minor seminary at Nazareth Hall in St. Paul. Although very young at the time, he has never changed course or doubted his decision, he said.

He has fulfilled his priestly duties and managed, along the way, to pick up a few unique hobbies and interests that are not part of his vocation.

Brown is an experienced photographer. He began taking pictures with his mother’s box camera while he was attending high school at Nazareth Hall.

Since that time, he purchased a number of new cameras including a studio camera, which he used to take more formal photos.

Along with the studio camera, he bought a large hand-painted background canvas and set up a studio in each of the churches where he was pastor.

Brown took family pictures for parish directories. He estimates he has taken family photographs for six to eight directories over the years.

Soon, he was taking baby pictures, high school senior pictures, and then wedding pictures for what he called a “full-service wedding.”

In the basement of every rectory that he was in, he had a darkroom to develop black and white photos.

The first photo he ever had published appeared in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Archdiocese Catholic Bulletin, now known as the Catholic Spirit, in 1969.

“I was in the small parish of Clements, which is now an oratory, and we had a Catholic school there. One day, I wandered over to the school and got a picture of the first grade teacher, a nun in full nun’s habit. She was riding a tricycle in her classroom. All of her little first graders were huddled around watching,” Brown said.

Brown mailed the photo to the Catholic Bulletin and it showed up on the front page of the very next issue.

Brown continued to submit photos of New Ulm events to the Catholic Bulletin and had several of his pictures published. When the New Ulm Diocese began publishing its own diocesan newspaper, Brown was part of a staff of six who put out the monthly newspaper.

The New Ulm paper was first called the Newsletter, and later became the Prairie Catholic.

Brown enjoyed the publishing business, and even took a break from 1985 to 1989 to work in New Rochelle, N.Y. with a religious publishing house where he was an associate editor for four years.

Brown has kept up with modern publishing technology, and commented about how much easier publishing layout is today, using computers.

“I am not on the staff at the Prairie Catholic anymore. They have an editor and an associate editor and they do all of the work it took six of us to do back then,” Brown said.

Keeping up with the latest in photography equipment, Brown purchased a top-of-the-line Canon digital camera two years ago, so now he takes everything digitally.

“I will never go back to film,” Brown said.

Just a few week ago, he took photos of the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women at their convention in Marshall. He has been photographer for its conventions for more than 25 years.

Never one to be left behind in the world of technology, Brown started looking into computers in 1983. He began educating himself on various kinds of personal computers.

After checking out many stores and watching the ads, he purchased a NEC Japanese computer.

“They cost a whole lot more then, and you got almost nothing for the money – very little memory,” Brown said.

He eventually gave away his NEC, and currently has two Apple Macintosh desktop computers, as well as a Mac laptop.

He uses his laptop to download his digital photos, and is now learning how to use the laptop to control his telescope – part of his latest hobby – astronomy.

“I have been interested in astronomy for many years, but it is only since I retired that I have had the time to devote to it. I got a telescope, and now I have an observatory.”

He invested in a 14-inch Meade LX200R a little over a year ago. It is the type of telescope that uses lenses and mirrors. It is about six feet high and four feet long.

When he got it, he had wanted it to be portable. When it arrived, he realized it was too big to be portable.

He asked a carpenter in Ivanhoe, where he previously served as chaplain of the nursing home, to build him an observatory.

“It is actually a small shed which is about six feet square. It has a slanting roof that slides off onto a scaffold that is the same height and is on wheels, so you can move it away from the shed,” he said.

He has plans to move his observatory to Winsted soon.

In the meantime, he has been spending time at the Baylor Observatory in Norwood-Young America, where he can view the universe.

He has joined the Minnesota Astronomy Society and is looking to them for training on telescopes.

“What I want to do is ask questions about my own system,” Brown said. “It is an advanced amateur one, but it is the first one that I have ever owned. I have a lot of questions and would like to have them come out to my observatory so I can learn how to do it.”

Brown has always found the universe fascinating.

“I have always been amazed at just how much space there is out there. You talk in terms of light years. One light year is six trillion miles. The closest spiral galaxy is 2.5 million light years away; which is like 15 million-trillion miles.

“I see it almost like a prayer,” Brown said. “To be amazed by the greatness of God.”

When Brown has free time and he is not taking pictures or studying astronomy, he likes to go jogging. He tries to fit it into his schedule three or four times a week. Since moving to Winsted in mid-April, he has been jogging around Winsted Lake.

Always one to use his time wisely, Brown jogs while listening to life learning tapes.

“The tapes are university level lectures on topics such as science, religion, literature, history, art, and music. I have listened to literally thousands of lectures from the Teaching Company since I discovered them. Right now, when I run around your lake, I have been listening to lectures on the Confessions of St. Augustine.

“I hope it makes my preaching more interesting,” Brown said.

As a priest, he has enjoyed serving small parishes

Brown was a sixth grader at St. Clara Catholic School in Clara City, when the priest and sister superior approached him one day and asked him if he had ever thought of becoming a priest.

“I don’t think I had up until then, but I started thinking about it. When I finished the eighth grade, I went to the minor seminary,” Brown said.

He left his farm home in Montevideo, and his family – his parents, James and Mathilda Brown, two brothers, Earl, and Paul, and twin sisters, Marilyn and Marian. His younger brother, Jim, was born two years later.

In the minor seminary, he completed four years of high school and two years of junior college.

“Now, you can almost count on the fingers of one hand the number of minor seminaries there are in the US today. Most bishops prefer to accept young men for the seminary at least after high school and probably after college,” Brown said.

“The thinking at the time was to get them young, while they were untouched by the world,” he added.

After he completed the minor seminary, he entered the St. Paul Seminary.

He studied philosophy for two years and had four years of theology.

Brown was ordained to the priesthood Feb. 21, 1960, in Sleepy Eye.

“There were five of us ordained for this diocese in one year. Now, we are lucky if we have one or two priests ordained a year. After this year, we will not have any for four years. That is, assuming that the ones in theology will continue,” Brown said.

Of the five priests ordained with Brown, there are two monsignors and one bishop. Monsignor Bob Wyffels, Winsted Holy Trinity pastor for 15 years, was one of the priests ordained with Brown.

Brown has found it amazing to be a priest for 47 years. “I could never have imagined what it was to be like at 13 years old.

“It has been a struggle because the idea of the priesthood that I had when I first started in the minor seminary has all changed as a result of the Vatican Council. These are still turbulent times. I like the changes that came with Vatican II, but not everybody does,” Brown said.

One of Brown’s fondest memories of his early years in the priesthood, was serving in small parishes.

“I made it a point to go out and visit people in their homes. In the early days, priests could drop in; whatever people were doing, they would stop and make coffee and sit and just visit. That was in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when most women didn’t work outside of the home. Now, you don’t just drop in, you call first.”

Fr. Brown is enjoying being chaplain at St. Mary’s, and getting to know all of its residents.

He has been asked to take photographs at some of the care center’s upcoming events.

Recently, he spent an entire morning taking numerous photographs of each of the residents. He is planning to have the photographs enlarged for each of them to display in their room.

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