Desire to build St. Joseph’s survived
through two wars
LtCol Albert W. Braun, OFM
NOV. 11, 1998
— Not all veterans carried guns — The Rev. Albert Braun wore a
chaplain’s cross during both world wars where he found himself
in heavy combat, on the front lines of France in 1918 during
World War I and in the bloody Battle of Bataan in World War II.
And in between the wars he built a church, St.
Joseph’s, a rock of solidity against the New Mexico sky. The
church is in Mescalero and visible from U.S. 70 eastbound
heading toward Ruidoso.
The church has a beautiful simplicity where
Christian and Apache symbolisms marry so compatibly. Braun’s
grave is also inside the church.
On an August afternoon in 1916, the newly
ordained Rev. Braun arrived by horse-drawn buggy on the
Mescalero Apache reservation that would become his life’s focus.
Finding the small adobe mission falling down, the young priest
began to envision a sturdier, more spacious building.
It had to wait though, because as of April 6,
1917, the United States was at war and Braun volunteered.
Wounded on the front lines during the assault on the Hindenburg
Line, he refused to leave the field where the wounded and dying
needed his care.
Back in Mescalero at war’s end, Braun turned
again to his dream of a church. Unable to get permission to
repair the deteriorated building, he moved in his usual direct
and innovative way: Filling the gaping cracks with explosives,
he blew the whole thing up. He had literally cleared the way for
With no funds forthcoming, he began with the
$100 left from his Army pay, a hard head filled with a dream,
two work-roughened hands and a lot of friends.
Securing passes from his friend W. A. Hawkins,
attorney for the Santa Fe Railroad, he traveled to Philadelphia
and approached noted architect William Stanton, who, as a gift,
drew the plans.
Braun donned overalls and went to work. His
old friend Tony Leyva, an expert quarrier and stone mason, came
from California and worked for nothing but food and lodging
until his death in 1936. Together they quarried and hauled stone
from nearby hills, built kilns, burned limestone and mixed
They dug the foundation, and in 1920 they laid
In 1921, Braun was transferred and work
virtually stopped until his return in 1927 with Tony and Brother
Silesius Kraft, who, inspired by Father Braun’s dream,
petitioned to join him. Stone by stone, the walls began to rise.
In 1939, the church was dedicated. The basic
building was completed, all of native materials - stone from the
Mescalero hills, La Luz tiles for the floor and roof and locally
quarried marble donated by the owner for the altar.
St. Joseph’s Apache Mission
Mescalero, New Mexico
Among the Mescalero
Apaches The Story of Father Albert
University of AZ Press 1973
The Rev. Richard Cushing gave the stations of
The church still lacked light fixtures, window
glass and a few other items, but Braun’s dream had translated
into stone reality.
In 1940 as the clouds of war gathered on both
horizons, he was asked by Gen. William Arnold at Fort Sam
Houston to help get chaplains to volunteer for the Philippines.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur was preparing for a
suspected Japanese attack many feared was coming. Braun was the
first to volunteer and he embarked for Manila after
Braun was able to figure out the arrival time
of the 200th Coast Artillery (New Mexico’s National Guard) in
the Philippines from a letter sent to him and met the ship.
The chaplain of the 200th, Episcopal minister
Ted Howden, an old friend of Braun’s, approached his fellow
priest after the Japanese attacked on behalf of those in his
regiment who wanted a Catholic priest.
Braun agreed and traveled regularly between
his own post on Corregidor and the Bataan Peninsula. He was
there during the four-month-long battle and Braun was made
honorary chaplain of the 200th.
After Bataan fell in April 1942 and Corregidor
in May 1942, Braun spent 3-1/2 years in a Japanese prisoner of
war camp in filth, brutality, disease and the starvation.
As MacArthur’s forces neared the Philippines,
the prisoners were moved north to prevent their liberation and
to work in the Japanese war industry.
In the black hold of an infamous “Hell Ship”
with 1,000 men, Braun led them in prayer and song to sustain
hope and sanity. In Japan, he continued nursing the sick,
burying the dead and giving solace in a thousand ways.
At war’s end, he was awarded the Legion of
Merit and the Silver Star for meritorious service.
More important to him was his return to his
beloved Mescalero and the resumption of his clerical duties.
Foremost was the completion of St. Joseph’s.
On his death in 1983, he was buried inside the
church, his funeral attended by throngs of mourning Apaches,
wartime soldiers and ex-POWs.
Perhaps the climax of his return came Nov. 11,
Veteran’s Day 1945, when Braun solemnly dedicated his beloved
church to the memory of all American soldiers of both world wars
who did not return to the land for which they gave their lives.