Jesuit Father John M. Buckley died on April 19, 2017, at Murray-Weigel Hall in the Bronx, New York. He was born on July 17, 1925, entered the Society of Jesus at St. Andrew-on-Hudson, Poughkeepsie, N.Y., on June 20, 1943, and was ordained on July 29, 1956, in Enghein, Belgium. He pronounced his final vows on August 15, 1960.
Born in New York in 1925, armed first with a Regis Jesuit High School diploma, he was educated by the Society of Jesus, which he entered in 1943. In both St. Andrew on Hudson and Woodstock College outside Baltimore, he turned to the colleges and universities of Europe and took on the study and travel challenges of the 1950s.
Confident that he was doing well, he was “his own man,” bright and strong, who “knew what he wanted.” While his older brother was the family athlete, Fr. Buckley, in the novitiate and juniorate at St. Andrew on Hudson took on Greek drama, mastered “Oedipus Rex,” and memorized his lines in Greek like a star. From then on, his advanced studies and teaching career went back and forth. Having taught Greek, Latin and theology at Canisius College in Buffalo, he moved to Enghein, Belgium’s Jesuit Theological Institute, where he was ordained in 1956, then back to America for tertianship at Auriesville, N.Y., then back to Buffalo to teach at Canisius in theology and spirituality in 1958, then to the Institute Catholique in Paris to work on his doctorate in theology.
Back in the U.S.A. in 1961, he taught theology for one year at Fordham University, then moved in 1962 to St. Peter’s College in Jersey City to teach for the next 48 years.
But he could not hold still. Back to Paris to teach a few more years of theology, he received his doctorate in 1965, then back to St. Peters. From there he would spend summers in Africa, in Nigeria, especially teaching novices, in work he loved. Though he had received emeritus status in theology at St. Peter’s, Nigeria beckoned again, calling him to teach in the novitiate, then return to St. Peter’s to devote energies to supporting the basketball team as an announcer.
Finally, in 2010, he moved to Murray-Weigel Hall on the Fordham campus where one’s job is often “to pray for the church and the Society.” But he served his local community in other ways. At St Peter’s he had a piano in his apartment, at Weigel it was a keyboard in his room. He played and sang at liturgies.
His life had been complicated, since an operation to replace his knee during the years at St. Peter’s. The wound did not heal, and Fr. Buckley chose to live with the bleeding wound bandaged rather than return to the hospital for another operation. The man who had traveled back and forth to Europe and Nigeria, now traveled down the corridors to the chapel and the dining room in his wheelchair, or out on the porch to enjoy an occasional cigar.
His room on the second floor is just big enough for a bed, a desk and tall book case on whose shelves rest hundreds of music tapes from Benny Goodman to “The Sound of Music” and liturgical choirs. There are rows of photographs —of weddings, family gatherings—and a half dozen tiny wooden carved black elephants from Africa. On the desk rests the electric keyboard silent and alone. A framed plaque reads, “Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy which sustained him through temporary periods of joy,” W.B. Yeats
One day an entertainer, playing bagpipes, who regularly visits Weigel, dropped in on Fr. Buckley to play Irish music. Fr. Buckley, who had become more laconic in the residence, suddenly burst into song. He especially loved Irish music. And recently, during Easter Sunday Mass he burst into song again. Shortly after he grew weaker until on April 19, 2017, he was called to join the heavenly choir.