Along with her day-to-day work seeing that Xavier’s undergraduate students make it through graduation, and looking after transfer students, study abroad programs and off-campus activities, Brannen is devoted to service. She coordinates a lunchtime group of Xavier personnel who knit and crochet caps for premature Appalachian infants. She heads a rosary-making group, whose rosaries can be found around the world. She raises funds to support educational efforts in Nigeria. She leads Bible study groups in her home twice a week. She hosts sandwich-making Saturdays once a month to provided food for the St. Francis-St. Joseph Catholic Worker House in Over-the-Rhine. She coordinates the University’s annual clothing drive. She and her husband Stephen provides instruction preparing couples for marriage. And, if all that weren’t enough, she’s also the unofficial mom for her husband’s AAU basketball team as well as for her oldest son Matthew’s Marine buddies.
But wait. Those were just the high points. Somewhere in between all of those activities, in what she calls her spare time, she makes wine. Good wine, too. It’s the perfect gift, she says, for her huge extended family.
Though she may generally shun the spotlight, Brannen isn’t shy diving in wherever she perceives a need or about her belief in the Ignatian way. “I live it every moment of my life,” she says. “My whole life is a life of sacrifice and doing the Lord’s work and everything that I can do touching Him, just being a reflection of Him to everyone that I encounter.”
Six or seven years ago, a friend from Gallipolis, Ohio, told Brannen about the extremely high rate of premature birth rates in Appalachia. The discussion touched her heart, so she decided to help by making caps for the infants. “I said, ‘Well I don’t know how to knit or crochet, but let me run it by some of the girls at work,’ ” Brannen says. “So we started a little group.” They call themselves, punfully, the Happy Hookers.
Brannen also launched a rosary-making group several years ago, hoping to help carry on the work of an aging member of her parish, Larry Traut, whose rosaries have been distributed around the world—Mother Teresa was buried with one. With Traut at its center, the group outgrew Brannen’s home and now includes Xavier students and groups from several Cincinnati-area schools.
One of those who joined in the rosary effort was Xavier alumnae Sister Fidelia Nnenna Chukwu, who spent two years at the University completing her master’s degree. When Sister Fidelia returned to Nigeria, Brannen helped her raise money to buy a car. And the support continues: Last Christmas, the registrar’s office sent boxes of toys to the school where she serves as principal, and Brannen hopes to eventually volunteer in Nigeria.
In all of this, and much more, Brannen feels blessed. The word “awesome” consistently bubbles to the surface of her conversations. She is, she says, surrounded by miracles. Her message is simple: One person can make a difference. “What I want people to say is, ‘If that person can do that, let me do this or let me try that.’ Maybe they’ll want to get involved.”