PALM BEACH GARDENS | Those who knew Father Harold Buckley could use a myriad of words to describe him: sculptor, author, poet, director, orator, mentor, brother, uncle, priest, pastor. This list is fitting since Father Buckley was an educated man of many words.
Father Buckley, who served at the Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola in Palm Beach Gardens, passed away peacefully May 11, 2019. He was 94. At Father Buckley’s funeral Mass celebrated May 22, Father Scott Adams, parochial vicar at the cathedral, offered an eloquent eulogy that Father Buckley himself would have appreciated.
“Harold was a wordsmith,” Father Adams said. “When he spoke, his conversations had layers to them. It was fitting that in his final days, Harold communicated through writing.”
Over the past three years, Father Adams got to know Father Buckley very well, as the retired priest remained active at St. Ignatius Parish. “Harold reminded me of Yoda,” Father Adams joked. “He had a slightly different way of speaking than the rest and loved the force that was at work in his life.”
Father Buckley published various works, including poetry, reflections on faith and a memoir of his 65 years of priesthood. His poetry echoed the sentiments of a love sonnet to the Catholic faith and the joys and challenges of pursuing a life in the light of Christ.
“Most importantly, Harold was a priest. He loved Jesus with his whole world,” Father Adams said.
This all-encompassing love is evident in the sculptures Father Buckley tenderly crafted for both the cathedral and Our Lady Queen of Peace Cemetery in Royal Palm Beach. In 2013, Our Lady Queen of Peace Cemetery commissioned Father Buckley to sculpt a priest memorial statue, which was installed at the cemetery for Memorial Day the following year. In a video interview conducted by the cemetery in 2014, Father Buckley revealed the meaning behind the statue’s image of the crucified Christ’s decent from the cross.
“I portrayed the angel holding the shoulder and the arm of Christ, helping St. John, who is right below, receive Christ’s body. At the bottom, Mary is kissing the hand of Jesus,” Father Buckley said. “Many ask who the angel is in the statue’s image. Is it Gabriel? I say, ‘No. No, it isn’t Gabriel. It is you. You are the angelic force in the lives of your family and friends. You keep people, you nourish them, you make them well. You do what angels do.’”
The priest’s artistic sensibilities centered on these images of guardian angels and Christ descending from the cross, also exemplified in the chapel crucifix at St. Ignatius Loyola and the statue located on the Cathedral grounds of an angel lovingly tending to a handful of children.
Of the Priest Memorial statue Buckley said, “When people come to sit in the cemetery’s garden, I’d like them to be aware of their pain of loss and to have that overcome by their hope of continuing life in the arms of Christ.”
Father Buckley was born in Brooklyn, New York, March 31, 1925. He was the middle child of five children, which included a sister and three brothers — Elizabeth, Jeremiah, Eugene and Robert. His parents, Elizabeth and Jeremiah, were both immigrants from County Kerry in Ireland.
He became interested in the priesthood as a teen. He attended the prep seminary at the Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception in 1942. While at college, he directed at number of plays, including Man of La Mancha, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Andersonville, among others.
He was ordained a priest in June 1953. Much of his ministry centered in New York parishes and schools, including Holy Family Parish in Hicksville, St. Pius X Prep Seminary in Uniondale, and the College Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Douglaston. He taught English literature and drama at the college seminary until 1987, when he took a sabbatical to study sculpture at the National Academy School of Fine Arts in New York City.
He created many beautiful sculptures mostly in Long Island, New York, and around Florida, where he lived in his retirement. While he used his God given talents through his great loves of poetry, sculpture and the theater, his first ministry was always to the people he served as a minister of God.
Father Buckley was preceded in death by his mother, father, sister, and two brothers. He is survived by his brother, Eugene, and his wife, Anne, and sister-in-law, Margaret Buckley. He is also survived by 20 nieces and nephews, and numerous grandnieces and grandnephews and many loving friends.