Born in Manhattan into a blue-collar Irish family, Patrick Buckley worked at Smith Barney as a foreign exchange trader, earning a high salary. He enjoyed parties and the single life. He had an expense account, traveled, and entertained foreign traders. But now, at 43, he is called Father Pat and is the associate pastor of St. Stephen’s Parish in Warwick, New York. He was interviewed by Francis Moore.
You did not choose the priesthood as a teenager, right?
I chose what I wanted to do—put my degree to use, work in the business world, live the high life, go out to parties, be in the thick of millions of dollars, feel the high of money in your pocket.
The job was all you expected, but you became a priest. Why?
There was something missing: a lot of time with God. When you open your heart just a little bit to the grace of God, he gets in there and he doesn’t let you forget about it. That’s what happened to me. I kept thinking about it. My uncle was a priest. He never asked me to be a priest, but I kept watching him whenever I went out to see him on weekends, and I said, "Here’s a man who enjoys what he’s doing." It’s not about money; it’s about bringing Christ to and getting Christ from people.
It wasn’t the angel on the bedpost and it wasn’t bolts of lightning, it was walking to work after a snow storm at 6:30 in the morning and starting to see God in things: the homeless guy laying in a cardboard box, seeing that life isn’t about everything at your beck and call, the nice shoes, getting to work, having your coffee. Some people are cut out for that, but God was trying to tell me you’ve got to do something different.
Had you ignored a calling?
I ignored it! But if God wants you he works on you. It’s up to you. You respond. That’s where free will comes in. In my case, I didn’t want it; I was ignoring it but, in his divine plan, I know that the right time was when I left. That’s the great thing about God. He knows what’s going to happen; he lets it play out. Easily I could have rejected it.
Were you praying about the priesthood?
If I didn’t pray as I was discerning, I would never have made it to the seminary. Every morning I prayed before I went to work. I prayed that I would stay healthy, do well, and “is this what you want from me God?” That’s cooperating with God because when you pray you’re actually letting God into your life. Each one of us . . . God has the best in for us.
Have you discovered any benefit or reward from becoming a priest you never expected?
I think you become humbled. On the day of ordination, other priests who are like thirty or forty years a priest, come and kneel down before you and ask you for a blessing. So you are all built up and starting to feel like Superman, like you’ve got these powers. And when you actually do the blessing you feel like you’ve been humbled into the priesthood.
My expectations have all been fulfilled. Every day is something greater. It’s a surprise. Mother Theresa was right: We’re all instruments in God’s hands, and that’s a template for everybody. As a married man, God uses you to bring his love to your wife and your family. God uses me at the altar, at the nursing home. My expectations have all been fulfilled, even surpassed.
How have you changed as a person from when you were younger?
Have I changed much? No. Have I changed for the good? I’ve let God’s grace work in me. In the business world, you more went with the flow. As a priest you have to be more of a listener—compassionate and understanding. That’s the hard part. You never look down at people. You’re not higher than them. When you go into the priesthood, don’t look to be served; you’re there to work with people, to serve them. But, if you use the priesthood for your own personal agenda for power, you’re wrong.
What is calling about?
Calling is about being Christ-like to other people. If you have weaknesses, I should help you improve them, yet be who you are. That’s what’s good about being a priest. Everyone is different yet we have the same goal to be Christ-like.
There are three ways to go. God may say, “You’re not going to be a priest, you’re going to be a married man with a family and maybe a great lector at Mass. You’re going to bring up your family with Christian values. That’s one way. Or you’re going to be single the rest of your life and you’re going to do wonderful things. And the other way is the priesthood and the religious life. It all winds together with the question are you who you were when you were growing up.
Every day as a priest is a challenge and every day there is something new. I’ve never been happier. Have an active prayer life. A prayer life leads to avoiding temptation, and God can work with you when you pray. Cooperation with God and his grace help you make right decisions. If a young person thinks about becoming a priest, never look back. Be thankful you’ve answered the Call. Trust in God.