Phil Buckley - Canberra-Goulburn

6 May 1943 - 5 November 2010

Parish priest of St Matthew’s, Page, Fr Phil Buckley was a friend and confidant to many, including a number of his fellow clergy who held him in the highest regard.

Fr Buckley died in Vienna, Austria, on 5 November after being admitted to hospital with pneumonia while on holiday. He was 67.

Phil Buckley was born in Nimmitabel on 6 May, 1943. He was the youngest child of Jack and Josie Buckley (dec.) and sibling of Terry, Moya and Helen (dec.).

He was educated by the Josephites at Nimmitabel before boarding at St Patrick’s Christian Brothers College, Goulburn. His academic prowess was to the fore at St Patrick’s, especially in mathematics, and he gained a Commonwealth Scholarship.

At the time he considered becoming an aeronautical engineer. However, he entered St Columba’s, Springwood, in 1960 as a seminarian of the Archdiocese. He continued his studies and formation at St Patrick’s, Manly, and was ordained by Archbishop Eris O’Brien on 22 July 1967, at the then St Patrick’s Church, Braddon.

Fr Buckley was an assistant priest at Young, Garran, Braddon and Boorowa before being appointed administrator of Bungendore in 1980. In the ensuing years he was parish priest of Yass, Queanbeyan, Cooma, Kambah and, from July 2004, Page.

He also served as Canberra Hospital chaplain, auditor or interviewer of the Marriage Tribunal, member of the Council of Priests and Consultors (Archdiocesan Trustees), Dean of the Monaro, coordinator for the 2004 Archdiocesan Synod, Vicar for Clergy and, at the time of his death, Dean of the Canberra Deanery.

He was a highly regarded member of numerous ad hoc archdiocesan and clergy committees. His pastoral giftedness and generosity saw him commit a number of years to the Cursillo Movement and Marriage Encounter. His support for his brother clergy was evident in his earlier membership of Jesus Caritas and more recently “F-Troop”, the latter being his clergy support group.

Fr Buckley was ordained two years after the Second Vatican Council and he retained his enthusiasm for the council’s call for renewal. This desire for renewal found resonance in the Archdiocesan synods of 1989 and 2004.

The synods called Catholics to discernment and collaborative ministry and Archbishop Mark Coleridge’s recent call for prayer, communion and mission found a willing response in Fr Buckley’s life and ministry. The source and summit of his apostolic endeavours was the celebration of Sunday Mass. His liturgical demeanour in celebrating the sacraments and his engaging homilies reflected a servant leadership born of the ruck of life, refined in prayerful communion and renewed in outreach. His connection with so many is writ large in their memories and forever in the heart of God.

Helpful as it is to list Fr Buckley’s appointments, commitments and style of ministry, one must probe a little deeper to fully appreciate the person.

He was a “dry alcoholic”, and drew daily on the insights of Alcoholics Anonymous and more especially the spiritual writings of Fr Richard Rohr OFM.

He knew that it is only in one’s brokenness, contrary to the promptings of one’s ego and pride, that true growth can emerge. The transformation in Fr Buckley was manifest in recent years in his practice of centering prayer.

At the same time he was grounded: he loved a bet on the horses and he was renown among clergy for his love of a game of cards. He was an Eels supporter with a soft spot for the Raiders and he followed the Brumbies.

He was especially close to family and relatives and he cherished presiding at their numerous baptisms, weddings and funerals and partaking in their social gatherings; he had good intentions about exercise and from time to time undertook a walking programme; he was a retired golf hacker; he liked to travel, he enjoyed sudoko and crosswords; he would have a paperback on the go and he would enjoy an engaging movie.

He would regularly attend visiting art exhibitions at the National Gallery and he was always up for a trip to a big budget musical in Sydney; he enjoyed the beauty and solitude of the bush; he was a gardener of sorts and of late had enjoyed his courtyard garden at Page; he was a warm host and, while no master chef, he enjoyed being in the kitchen; he had eclectic musical tastes and he enjoyed liturgical singing and the singing of ditties as well as the sharing of jokes.

He was sensitive to “the little ones” and he was especially sensitive in the face of tragedy and brokenness; he was a friend and confidant to many, including a number of his fellow clergy who held him in the highest regard, not the least because of his sensitivity as a confessor and because of his engaging manner during the annual clergy assembly and clergy retreat at St Clement’s, Galong, a holy place for him and for many brother clergy.

He was not perfect, far from it. His warm smile could give way to fiery eyes when he was critical and judgemental; he liked to be in control, he could be stubborn and moody and he liked it done his way; he could lapse into old negative patterns of behaviour. He found spontaneity in a public setting challenging and his preference for dress track pants and pressed down shirt collars was not a particularly good look.

While his shortcomings both frustrated and endeared him, they were markedly outweighed by his basic integrity. Fr Buckley managed to develop that rare and most appealing of traits: he was himself.

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The funeral Mass was celebrated at St Christopher’s Cathedral and he was buried at Nimmitabel.

- Mgr John Woods. 

  • Created: 20 December 2010
  • Modified: 30 November -0001