On Wednesday, members of the student body, faculty, and staff of Thomas Aquinas College, California, gathered for a farewell luncheon in honor of Rev. Cornelius M. Buckley, S.J. After nearly 17 years of on-campus service, Fr. Buckley will be leaving the College in September for the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos, California — the culmination of nearly six decades in the priesthood — and the community embraced the occasion to thank him, to express its gratitude, and to reminisce.

In a show of fun, the event began when Dr. John J. Goyette, dean of the California campus, drove Fr. Buckley into the dining hall in a golf cart, amid much laughter and applause as tutors and students rose to their feet. President Michael F. McLean then took to the dais, describing Fr. Buckley as “a friend, mentor, and confessor to me and many others” whose “departure will be difficult, though inspiring” for members of the College community. “I say ‘inspiring,’ because this is an instance of Fr. Buckley modeling the Catholic virtue of obedience,” Dr. McLean explained. “As much as we would like to have him stay, he follows the command of his Jesuit brothers. In doing so, he follows God and, through that, he teaches us.”

Next, Dr. Goyette spoke of what he described as “another side of Fr. Buckley,” characterized by “his kindness, his humility, and his sense of humor — the last one you might call mischievous or somewhat irreverent.” The priest, Dr. Goyette continued, has always put the needs of the College’s students first. “He wakes up at 4:00 a.m. to do his work, then takes a midday nap so he can be with students late at night for consecration at curfew. Fr. Buckley also encourages any students who are struggling. Not only that, but he’s a joy in confession. He's always reminding us that ‘Christ came for the sinners, not the self-righteous,’ to put us at ease.”

As the crowd erupted in applause, Dr. Goyette presented Fr. Buckley with a spiritual bouquet, a framed photograph of the College’s California campus, and a memory book filled with anecdotes from alumni. “Somebody said life is like passing through a water stream; it slips by quickly,” Fr Buckley observed. “And it does — for everyone. You won’t be here in another five years, students. We all go elsewhere after a time. It’s a very nice place to go, too. I see it as more of the main entrance into something that’s even greater — the great banquet in Heaven.”

Showing his love for the students, Fr. Buckley said he intends to bring this year’s class list with him to meditate over in front of the Blessed Sacrament. “St. Theresa of Avila said to always bring reading material to meditation. Now I can keep you all in my prayers in a special way,” he said. “Come up to see me sometime, too,” he added. “I cannot wait for when I can see you all again — here or in Heaven.”

Fr. Buckley