The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has launched a new podcast series to help area faithful transition back to in-person parish life after weeks of COVID-19 restrictions.
The Arise podcast explores Catholic life in the archdiocese and offers reflections on the word of God as it speaks to us in our own day.
The show’s title is derived from that of the Arise initiative, a multifaceted archdiocesan effort that offers a wide array of resources for parishes in navigating the coronavirus crisis.
Featuring Father Richard Owens, O.F.M. Cap., Father Eric Banecker (parochial vicar of St. Pius X in Broomall) and Gina Christian (CatholicPhilly.com), the podcast presents the truth, beauty and goodness of the Catholic faith to Catholics, fellow Christians and all those who seek something more.
In this episode, seminarian Tucker Brown of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood shares how God called him from the medical field to the priesthood — and from healing bodies to healing souls destined for eternal life.
(Music by Johnny Markin, taken from the “Instrumental Acoustic Hymns Project,” owned by Essential Christian under the imprint Elevation, with an arrangement copyrighted by Music Services. For more information on the Arise Project, visit archphila.org/arise.)
If you’re accessing this podcast on a mobile device and do not wish to download the SoundCloud app, simply click on the “Listen in browser” option. You can also find us on Stitcher, Google Play, and iTunes.
Scroll down for a full transcription of the Arise podcast’s first episode.
The Arise podcast, Episode 3 – From Doctor to Priest
Father Richard Owens: Welcome to the Arise Podcast. This is Capuchin Father Richard Owens.
Father Eric Banecker: And this is Father Eric Banecker.
Gina Christian: And I’m Gina Christian.
Father Richard Owens: Where we explore a Catholic life in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and reflect on the Word of God as he speaks to us in our own day.
Father Eric Banecker: Hi, this is Father Eric Banecker. Our guest today grew up in Western Pennsylvania. He came to Philadelphia to attend Jefferson University Medical School. He received his MD in 2018 and then entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Overbrook. He’s finishing his second year of studies there for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Tucker Brown, welcome to Arise, the podcast.
Tucker Brown: Thank you so much, Farther Banecker. It’s great to be with you.
Father Eric Banecker: Now, Tucker, I’ve mentioned your biography a little bit there in the intro. Tell us how you got from Steelers country out here to Philadelphia? How did that happen for you to come here to med school?
Tucker Brown: Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of a long story, but yeah, I guess ultimately I had a desire on my heart for a long time in my life to heal, to serve. From ninth grade on, I really, I felt this desire to practice medicine. I ended up studying at Penn State, studied pre-medicine. And yeah, I was kind of attracted to learning a little bit about city life and experiencing the opportunities present there. Having grown up in a very rural area, so Jefferson was definitely very interesting to me being in Philadelphia. Yeah, it has been a much different experience than what I grew up with.
Father Eric Banecker: You grew up Catholic?
Tucker Brown: I did, yes. Very fortunate to be raised Catholic and to have two parents really, that cared about me and my sister and wanted to bring us up in the faith. But at the same time, like so many young folks today, I had a pretty strong dip in my faith and I sort of had a reversion in college, which was huge for me. I think it was really the opportunity for me to own my faith. And it was really sort of at that point, that even a question about vocation started to enter the picture.
Father Eric Banecker: Were there any specific experiences in college or people that really sort of facilitated that reconnection with faith?
Tucker Brown: Absolutely. I mean, it’s really, a huge list. So many people, people inviting me to Bible studies, priests, family, friends. Yeah, the list really goes on. Probably at the top of the list was my dad. He had his own kind of conversion right before my sort of stepping fully back in and he was really instrumental in me embracing Catholicism again.
Father Eric Banecker: Did you go to a public high school?
Tucker Brown: I did. Yeah. WCHS in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania.
Father Eric Banecker: Is that where you first got into science?
Tucker Brown: Yeah, I suppose. I mean, I was pretty interested at an early age. I actually wanted to do something along the lines of engineering. I loved building things, but yeah, I became more interested in sort of the biological sciences in high school.
Father Eric Banecker: So you arrive here in Philadelphia and you start attending Jefferson. Were you living in the neighborhood there on campus?
Tucker Brown: The first year I was, yeah. Yeah, the first year I lived basically on campus, 10th and Walnut. But after that, I moved into the Catholic Center for Young Adults, which is this young adult community. I really focused on spreading the gospel through person-to-person interaction, inviting people into the community. So I lived there for my last three years of med school.
Father Eric Banecker: I think one of the experiences that people are having right now is sort of the sense of isolation that lack of community provides. The internet can kind of replicate it to some degree, but can you tell us the experience of living in that young adult community? What was that like in terms of your own formation and growth?
Tucker Brown: It was tremendous. I mean, as you might guess, or understand, a lot of times the medical community can be somewhat hostile to faith and if not hostile, maybe just sort of cold. So it really felt almost like going out to battle sometimes when you would go either to class or even into the clinic. To be able to come home to a place where I could just let my guard down, talk openly about my faith and the struggles that I had encountered, it was huge. And I really even learned a lot just through conversation with the other guys in the house. One of my closer friends was actually, he spent some time with the Dominican’s and so I learned so much about the faith, just through casual conversation with my friends.
Father Eric Banecker: You mentioned that a little bit in college, you had the beginnings of an inklings of maybe thinking about a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. Did that sort of come back to the fore while you were in medical school?
Tucker Brown: Well, it never really went away. I kind of hoped that it would. So shortly after I really embraced the faith again, in a very small way, I just thought what if God’s calling me to be a priest and it was terrifying. So I tried to tell myself like, “Oh, it’s just because the nice ladies at church have said a couple of things and it’s not God talking, it’s just people talking.” And I kind of just hoped that it would fade away. But I realized once I got to medical school that, that desire was even stronger. And certainly at the CCYA, I was able to explore the vocation to a much higher degree than I would’ve on my own.
Father Eric Banecker: Did you ever thought of sort of entering the seminary in the midst of your ongoing studies in medical school, did that scare you or think like, “Oh, what are people going to think?”
Tucker Brown: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. And I was pleasantly surprised with the response of a lot of my friends and classmates. I was very afraid of that. And I think that’s a fear a lot of people face when they’re discerning a vocation, what are my parents going to think? What are my friends going to think? And I thought, especially people that are sort of science-minded and see the good in practicing medicine, they’re going to think like, “Are you crazy leaving that behind?” I was shocked. I had, maybe out of hundreds of encounters like that, maybe one slightly negative experience. Everyone else was very supportive and very proud of following this passion and doing something that was kind of against the grain.
Father Eric Banecker: So I think, Tucker, one of the things that as Catholics, we think about the beauty of our faith and the fact that it is reasonable. Not that we can know divine revelation by reason, but that we can use our minds in order to study the world and then make sense of what we’re told in divine revelation. Right? So obviously the commandment to love our neighbor is very at the forefront of the teachings of Christ. So as someone who has a medical degree, how do we as Catholics love our neighbor right now in this period of this coronavirus pandemic?
Tucker Brown: That’s a great question. And I mean, I think that the number one challenge in doing that is just the great degree of uncertainty that there is. And I think that’s an idea that all of us are being exposed to, to a higher degree than usual. We’re thinking about things we don’t typically think about. We think about the studies that are being done and realize that even those studies don’t give you a definitive answer. They tell you like, okay, this is most likely so on and so forth. So I think it then becomes very challenging to know exactly what to do.
Tucker Brown: At the same time, I think as Catholics, perhaps in particular, we can appreciate that every little thing that we do can be an act of love. So when an authority tells us we should be washing our hands more regularly and for at least 20 seconds, we can see every single time that we wash our hands for at least 20 seconds, as a way of loving our neighbor. We can see like, okay, when we have to wear a mask to go into the store, it might feel silly, we might not know if it’s actually making a difference or not, but to embrace that small act as an act of love, I think is huge. So I think this has really given us so many opportunities to see those little moments in our day as opportunities to love one another.
Father Eric Banecker: You mentioned that the medical school can be sort of a challenging place for people of faith. And I’m sure a lot of ambitious people are sort of collected together, but now they’re out sort of dealing with this disease. Have you heard from anyone sort of quote unquote on the front lines of this in the hospitals? What are they experiencing right now?
Tucker Brown: Yeah, I’ve heard from some people. So some of my friends from the Catholic Medical Association that are either residents or young physicians or attendings, I should say, some of them, depending on their specialty, have actually seen a drastic drop in what they’re able to do or the patients that they’re able to see. So a friend of mine that’s a pediatrician, her practice, they saw, I think like a 70% drop in the sort of case volume, I guess you would say. So I think that’s pretty universal. So if you’re in the hospital, it’s different, it’s more intense. And I think perhaps one of the main challenges in particular to physicians with faith is that lack of contact with the patient, that extra barrier that is created by the precautions necessary to prevent the spread of the virus within the hospital.
Father Eric Banecker: So you made this jump from studying to heal people’s bodies, to the seminary where a person goes to discern and study to prepare, to sort of be a healer of souls in a sense. Of course, Christ is the great physician, but he works through us and in a particular way through those in holy orders. So first of all, I mean, any experiences in your own life… I’m sure there’s a lot of people that are either grieving or scared, or just kind of anxious in general right now. Any experience in your own life where you’ve sort of had the similar experiences?
Tucker Brown: In terms of experiencing this fear?
Father Eric Banecker: Yeah, well, a lot of people are… Yeah.
Tucker Brown: Yeah, sure. I mean, yeah, people around me definitely expressing a sense of anxiety, a sense of loneliness. I think I’ve been extremely fortunate through all of this. So I’ve been staying at my home parish rectory and my pastor is really wonderful. So we have one another. I’m very much blessed, blessed by that and a pretty supportive community outside of that as well. But certainly, it’s definitely been taking a toll on people. And there’s nothing that can really replace that face to face and even that touch that we experience, whether it’s a hug, holding a hand. You don’t get that when you’re across the screen.
Father Eric Banecker: Right. What are the big differences, any similarities between going to medical school and being in a Catholic seminary?
Tucker Brown: Yeah, I guess one of the main differences I think in our formation in the seminary is that the priests that are responsible for helping us to grow are really focused on us as a whole person. And I give Jefferson a lot of credit for moving in that direction, but it seemed like at the end of the day, what really mattered was that the test. So like, get a good grade on the test and that’s what it’s about. So you sort of shift your priorities around that, as long as I’m doing well with my test scores, things are going well.
Tucker Brown: At the seminary, it’s different. Obviously there’s an emphasis still on intellectual formation. It’s very important for the work of the priest, but there’s emphasis on the other areas of the person of the seminary. And so trying to balance all that can actually be a challenge, especially when you’re used to just sort of really honing in on one main area, trying to treat multiple areas well, can be difficult.
Tucker Brown: A similarity, I would say the intensity of it. I think both are fairly in test because the stakes are high in both. If you’re practicing medicine, it has to do with life and death, whether it’s sort of acute decision-making around life and death, or preventing an illness. It has to do with people’s lives. And it’s very similar with the priesthood. It has to do with people’s souls. So arguably something even more important, more profound. So we want to do what we’re doing well. So I think there’s an intensity that is similar.
Father Eric Banecker: Obviously, a lot of people think, “Oh, a person goes to the seminary to learn to be a priest.” And I think there’s an aspect of that that’s very true, but I think there’s another aspect where a person goes to discern whether or not God is calling them to be a priest. So for a person who’s outside of the seminary currently, but maybe thinks, as you did at one point, “Oh, maybe God wants me to explore this a little bit more,” what advice would you give them about how to discern that, how to figure that out?
Tucker Brown: I think a big thing for me is taking steps. Yeah, because we don’t take just one giant step from thinking about the priesthood to being ordained. We have to take a bunch of little steps. So I think typically if we’re prayerful and thoughtful, we oftentimes know what that one little step that we need to make today is. And so I would encourage people to go ahead and make that step. And it could be just adding a rhythm of daily prayer. If you don’t have a rhythm of daily prayer just say, “Okay, I’m going to go into the chapel or make a space in my room and I’m going to spend 15 minutes there every day.” That might be the step that you need to make. But whatever that step is, I would encourage folks to have the courage to do that.
Father Eric Banecker: Obviously, you’re finishing your second year, so you’re sort of moving forward of course, but still a number of years away. But what do you most look forward to about being a priest?
Tucker Brown: Yeah. I think there’s two things. Perhaps the most concrete thing is hearing confessions. And I think that ties into that desire to heal, this radical sense of healing that is made possible by confession, just wiping away sins through Christ’s mercy. I think it’s a little bit less concrete, I guess, the second thing, but just being with the people, getting to know them, learning how to help guide them in their faith journeys. I really look forward to being planted in a parish and being part of that parish community.
Father Eric Banecker: Yeah. Yeah, you mentioned confession sort of in many ways, it’s the longest baptism and really the two sacraments that really in a unique way speak of healing. And, of course, the anointing of the sick. As we begin to slowly reopen things here in the Archdiocese, I’m sure there are a lot of people that, not because they’ve missed mass in the past eight weeks, because everyone’s missed mass in the past eight weeks and we’ve been dispensed, but many people haven’t been to confession in a while, maybe will take this opportunity to return to that sacrament. What advice would you have for them or what would you say to them about the beauty of that sacrament?
Tucker Brown: Be not afraid. It’s applicable really in all areas of our life. But yeah, I’m fortunate to be able to go to confession with frequency. But even still, I still face that fear, even if it’s just been a week. And I know, for me, there was a time where I’m not sure how long it had been, five years, 10 years since I had made a confession. And there was a lot of fear with that even just in the mechanics, how do I do this? What am I supposed to say? And that’s very real. But I think there’s almost always the element of fear, but just trusting in the Lord. It’s really about mercy. And every time that I’ve gone to confession I’ve always ended up encountering that mercy, even if there was a lot of fear beforehand.
Father Eric Banecker: So obviously we’re going to be slowly beginning the process of opening our door. Of course, our doors have been open the whole time for private prayer. But as we begin to open up for public liturgies, what would you say, precautions that individuals can take in order to feel like they can go to mass in a safe way?
Tucker Brown: I would say the big thing is just pay attention to what our authorities are saying. I was listening to a podcast recently and they sort of pointed out our tendency to sort of be all or nothing. So right now we’re still kind of holding onto like, let’s do everything we can. And as we safely start to pull some things back, start to do some more things, I think there can be the tendency to be like, “Okay, we’re done now, so now we can do everything.” And obviously it depends on a person’s temperament. Maybe someone else would be more cautious, but just keeping our ear to the ground and listening, okay, what are we supposed to be doing? And trying to be out of love, obedient to what the most legitimate authorities are saying that we should do.
Father Eric Banecker: Final question, Tucker. It seems throughout the scriptures, the Lord clearly seems to work in challenging times. In some ways he seems to work more intensely or at least it appears to be that way through challenging and difficult times in the history of the church, in the history of the world. What are some seeds of hope, some signs of hope that you’re seeing even now amidst these challenging days of the pandemic?
Tucker Brown: Absolutely. One thing I think, people are asking the question, “What is essential,” sometimes in a joking way, when some things that don’t seem essential are deemed essential and vice versa. But I think people are kind of asking that question in a deeper way, like what really matters, what’s worth it? And so I think people, including myself will be sort of more intentional about how they live, how they work. And I hope that there’ll be a greater emphasis on relationships. We’ll take more time to be with one another and make a priority for that and realize the things that we didn’t think could wait before can actually wait in order to spend time with a friend or a loved one.
Father Eric Banecker: Well, a relationship with God and with others, that’s a great way I think to end this. So Tucker Brown, MD, Seminarian for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, keep up, persevere and we look forward to having you as one of our priests in a few years.
Tucker Brown: Thank you.
Father Eric Banecker: All right.
Gina Christian:You’ve been listening to the Arise Podcast with Capuchin Father Richard Owens and Father Eric Banecker. I’m Gina Christian, and for more resources and information on the Arise Project, visit archphila.org/arise. Thanks for listening.
This podcast has been a production of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Our engineers are Jhoselyn Martinez and Gina Christian. Music by Johnny Markin taken from the “Instrumental Acoustic Hymns Project” owned by Essential Christian under the imprint Elevation with an arrangement copyrighted by Music Services. For more information on the Arise Project, visit archphila.org/arise.
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