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"Formed in Faith" College Athletic Series Spotlights UNC-W's Joe Browning

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The cover story in the September issue of the NCCatholics, “Formed in Faith,” featured stories on five Catholics involved in college athletics in the Diocese of Raleigh. In the coming weeks, we will continue the series, showcasing other Catholic men and women “Formed in Faith” whose faith lives play an important role in who they are as individuals and in their professional lives in working with young adults. We begin our online series with Mr. Joe Browning.

Mr. Joe Browning
Senior Associate Athletic Director
UNC-Wilmington 

Several times during the year, you might find each member of the Joe Browning family involved in different ways at a Sunday Mass at Saint Mark Catholic Church in Wilmington. Joe will be the lector, his wife Mary a Eucharist Minister, his 12-year old son Ivan an altar server and his 17-year old daughter Hayley working the parish nursery.

Joe and Mary Browning moved to Wilmington in 1986 when he took the job as Sports Information Director (SID) at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, leaving a similar position at Shepherd College in Shepherdsville, West Virginia. One of the first priorities they had was to find a parish, and they settled at Saint Mark, which Browning said at the time had 400 parishioners. In addition to his new duties at UNC-W, he became active in the parish and in the first 15 years served two terms on the parish council as the parish community began to grow.

“Living an active faith life is something that was instilled in me from an early age,” Browning said. “Since then, I’ve always been a firm believer, a living witness, that what we do on Sunday should carry over every day of the week.”

Born in Topeka, Kansas, he attended Catholic elementary school until the family moved to Danville, Virginia, when he was 12. There, he attended Sacred Heart School, having to move to a public school in ninth grade because Danville did not have a Catholic high school. Upon graduation, he went on to college, getting a Mass Communication Degree from Virginia Commonwealth. His first two jobs were sports writing for newspapers in Virginia and Idaho. He moved to Shepherd College in the early 1980s. That’s where he met his wife, who was the sister of the man he replaced as SID. They were married in 1984.

Browning’s current position is Senior Associate Athletic Director, which means he frequently travels with the men’s basketball team. He said finding a Mass to attend on weekends while on the road is a priority. “When we were in Fairbanks, Alaska, the closest church I could find was a few miles away from our hotel,” he said. “It was a pleasant walk.” He recalled former UNC-W men’s basketball coach Jerry Wainwright, who is also Catholic. “Jerry used to go to church daily. When the team was on the road, he always knew I’d find a church to attend weekend Mass.”

Browning said his faith helps him in his work. “I have to make decisions regularly that could impact the lives of coaches and student athletes entrusted to the University,” he said. “Many factors are involved in those decisions. I pray for guidance and wisdom to make well-informed decisions that could ultimately make a difference in people’s lives.”

Browning embraces his Catholic faith, noting that through the Eucharist and prayer he experiences closeness to God. “The fact that we are a universal Church and can go anywhere in the world and receive the Eucharist is comforting.”

As for his 24 years in Wilmington, Browning noted, “The growth of the Catholic faith in this area is impressive. When we arrived, we could never imagine there would be two Catholic elementary schools in the city. And now we are looking at the possibility of a Catholic high school. It’s a definite sign of how our faith is growing and the high regard our community has in Catholic education."

Our Formed in Faith series continues next week with a story on Joe Sagula, women’s head volleyball coach at UNC-Chapel Hill.